Cindy's 4 and snuggled to mom's chest, one hand over mom's left shoulder. Mom talks quietly about her husband, then barks, "No!" and pulls Cindy's hand away from where it had strayed into Mom's hair. "I can't stand when she does that. I'm sure she's doing it just to annoy me."
The little girl is back asleep; her mother continues her list. A few minutes later, the little girl moans, "No" and pushes mom's hand from where it had been rolling Cindy's hair into little coils.
An inherited trait just as much as eye color? Imitation? Oppositional? Or Coincidence?
Many of us have seen the bits and pieces, the small change, of human conduct occurring in highly similar forms in several generations of a family. Standard doctrine for at least 50 years is that imitation and social learning account for these things. Or, we can't account for them, why discuss them? Still, as documented in my postings on Grand Dad, I've secretly marveled about these phenomena for nearly 15 years.
Some Proposals about Operenes or Familial Action Patterns(1):
a) Operenes or FAPs are stereotyped motor sequences (such as a hair tug, a knee flick, an obsessive behavior sequence, even behavior sequences that may seem idiosyncratic or impulsive) that appear in several members and generations of blood relatives.
b) Traits, physical or behavioral, are usually identified first in shorter-lived species. Our own has more generational overlap than at any time in the past, but we still need a quarter century to compare children and parents or 50 years for grandparents at a similar age. It is not surprising that most descriptions of FAPs is an anecdotal product of twin studies.
c) An identification problem exists for behavior traits but is no different from that associated with an analysis of physical structures. (See essays by Darden, by Fristrup, and by Stevens) Nose shape, height, and eye color are traits simply because some observer chose to study them. The labeling, identification, and measurement problems are qualitatively similar to those associated with psychiatric diagnoses, mental abilities, or psychological adaptations.
d) Recognition of FAPs may be deceptively simple if current theories are true that we have efficient "kin recognition" adaptations courtesy of evolution. If kin recognition systems exist, they could as easily respond to familiar traits as they do to physical similarities.
e) Classification of traits may often be a result of our own adaptations for distinguishing and sorting objects. (Stevens indirectly makes this point when he says, "The quality most often attributed to great taxonomists of the past, such as George Bentham, is 'instinct.'") The choice was simplified for Mendel by his own psychological adaptations for color perception. (The unsettling possibility is that we may not have adaptations to detect our most pervasive or characteristic traits.)
f) Operenes/FAPs can be as variable or consistent as physical traits but probably not more so.
g) They may have digital and analog features and, thus, may show Mendelian inheritance characteristics. We might expect dominant features, recessive ones, and traits that are amplified or suppressed by polygenic (several genes modulating one feature), pleiotropic (one gene modulates several features), or allotropic (changes in one feature impose changes in other features because of physical relationships) relationships.
h) Operenes/FAPs may be segments of psychological adaptations.
1) Operene is a mutation of "operant," an emitted response in Skinnerian terms. Incidentally, Cindy's mother appeared more accepting of the hair sequence as well as a number of other quirks Cindy had when I was able to identify highly similar features in Mom's own history as well as that of her father.
2) Darden L "Character: Historical Perspectives," in Keller E & Lloyd E (Eds.), 1994, "Keywords in Evolutionary Biology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, pp. 41-44. Fristrup K "Character: Current Usages," in Keller & Lloyd, pp. 45-51 Stevens P. "Species: Historical Perspectives" in Keller & Lloyd, pp. 302-311.