Behavioral epigenetics is the field of study examining the role of epigenetics in shaping animal (including human) behaviour. It is an experimental science that seeks to explain how nurture shapes nature, where nature refers to biological heredity and nurture refers to virtually everything that occurs during the life-span (e.g., social-experience, diet and nutrition, and exposure to toxins). Behavioral epigenetics attempts to provide a framework for understanding how the expression of genes is influenced by experiences and the environment to produce individual differences in behaviour, cognition personality, and mental health.
Epigenetic gene regulation involves changes other than to the sequence of DNA and includes changes to histones (proteins around which DNA is wrapped) and DNA methylation. These epigenetic changes can influence the growth of neurons in the developing brain as well as modify activity of the neurons in the adult brain. Together, these epigenetic changes on neuron structure and function can have a marked influence on an organism’s behavior.