Polygenic scores: prediction versus explanation

Robert Plomin*, Sophie von Stumm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


During the past decade, polygenic scores have become a fast-growing area of research in the behavioural sciences. The ability to directly assess people’s genetic propensities has transformed research by making it possible to add genetic predictors of traits to any study. The value of polygenic scores in the behavioural sciences rests on using inherited DNA differences to predict, from birth, common disorders and complex traits in unrelated individuals in the population. This predictive power of polygenic scores does not require knowing anything about the processes that lie between genes and behaviour. It also does not mandate disentangling the extent to which the prediction is due to assortative mating, genotype–environment correlation, or even population stratification. Although bottom-up explanation from genes to brain to behaviour will remain the long-term goal of the behavioural sciences, prediction is also a worthy achievement because it has immediate practical utility for identifying individuals at risk and is the necessary first step towards explanation. A high priority for research must be to increase the predictive power of polygenic scores to be able to use them as an early warning system to prevent problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-52
Number of pages4
JournalMolecular psychiatry
Issue number1
Early online date22 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
RP is supported in part by the UK Medical Research Council (MR/M021475/1) with additional support from the US National Institutes of Health (AG04938). SvS is supported by a Jacobs Fellowship and a Nuffield award (EDO/44110).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

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