Do intellectual pursuits predict specific brain disorders?

Research among college students suggests a link between neuropsychiatric disorders among family members and intellectual pursuits.

Researchers at Princeton University conducted research among college students that suggests a link between neuropsychiatric disorders among family members and intellectual pursuits. Students with technical majors (such as science, mathematics or engineering) were more likely than other students to report a sibling with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Conversely, students interested in the humanities were more likely to report a family member with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse problems. The study was published on January 26, 2012 in the online journal PLoS One.

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Benjamin C. Campbell and Samuel S. H. Wang, both of the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton, conducted the research.

College students who pursued more technical majors (math/science/engineering) were three times more likely than non-technical majors to have family members who had some form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Those with an ASD typically have problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, problems adapting to social situations, and express repetitive behaviors.

Students who pursued majors in the humanities, arts and social sciences were two times more likely than non-humanities majors to have a family member who had a bipolar disorder, depression, substance abuse issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Both ASD s and emotional disorders are complex and have a variety of genetic and environmental factors that influence their development. Autism often correlates with a systemizing, organized approach that lends itself to more technical and scientific fields, researchers said. Taken to the extreme, this can become dysfunctional.

Similarly, subdued forms of emotional instability lend themselves to more creative interests. Researchers explained that this instability, taken to the extreme, can lead to emotional disorders like depression and bipolar disorder.

Bottom line: Two researchers – Benjamin C. Campbell and Samuel S. H. Wang, both of the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton – suggest a link between neuropsychiatric disorders among family members and intellectual pursuits.

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