Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Are your mom and dad fighting inside your brain?

No, I’m not talking Freudian psychology. Nor gestalt, nor modern humanistic or self-actualization theories.

I’m talking about the latest theory on the heritability of mental illness.

Bernard Crespi and Christopher Badcock claim this:
An evolutionary tug of war between genes from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg can, in effect, tip brain development in one of two ways. A strong bias toward the father pushes a developing brain along the autistic spectrum, toward a fascination with objects, patterns, mechanical systems, at the expense of social development. A bias toward the mother moves the growing brain along what the researchers call the psychotic spectrum, toward hypersensitivity to mood, their own and others’. This, according to the theory, increases a child’s risk of developing schizophrenia later on, as well as mood problems like bipolar disorder and depression.

My first thought? It may not be Freudianism, but it carries as much sexual stereotyping baggage as Freud did.

That said, the story notes that their work leans heavily on David Haig. A decade ago, he argued that pregnancy was in part a biological struggle for resources between the mother and unborn child, with natural selection favoring mothers who could limit the nutritional “vampirism” of fetusus and fathers whose offspring were greedy as they could be in the womb.

So, Crespi and Babcock aren’t totally barking up the wrong tree.

But, beyond their sexist-sounding take on mental illness, they seem to have a black-and-white view of genetic and epigenetic effects, too, which leads them into their one-axis view of all mental health conditions.

So, right now, if mom and dad are fighting inside you, they are more likely to be fighting inside your mind rather than in genetic or epigenetic coding in your brain.

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