Daniel A. Briley

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research Focus
Daniel Briley is a developmental behavior geneticist. His work focuses on how the interplay of genes and environments across the lifespan produces individual differences in personality, cognition, and academic achievement. In particular, he is interested in the factors that guide the development of student character, broadly defined as behaviors that allow adaptive engagement within the classroom. For example, conscientiousness represents a broad suite of achievement-relevant behaviors, including paying attention, striving for achievement, completing assignments diligently, and finding educational material engaging. Daniel Briley’s work examines the combination of biological and ecological systems to produce psychological characteristics.

What have I achieved during my fellowship?
As a Jacobs Research Fellow, I completed several projects examining health disparities from a developmental behavior genetic lens. For example, it is well-known that socioeconomically advantaged individuals tend to have better health outcomes, but some argue that a genetic explanation for this association is appropriate. However, we found that wealth was associated with health even within identical twin pairs. The wealthier identical twin tends to live longer. My work takes the possibility of genetic influences on development seriously in order to make more accurate inferences about the role of the environment. Genetically informative data enables causal inferences to be made about associations between health outcomes and risk factors. My work has documented these sorts of unfolding developmental processes across multiple domains, such as health and wellness, personality and cognitive abilities, and occupational interests and job performance.

My plans for the future
I hope to construct useful frameworks of psychological development that can be used to understand the full range of human experience. I am particularly eager to work on the topic of identity development. Many psychological constructs, like abilities, personality, or motivation, describe surface-level details of an individual. I am interested in exploring the ways these psychological features impact one’s deeply felt sense of self.