A hallmark of the individual is the cultivation of personal interests, but for some people, their intellectual pursuits might actually be genetically predetermined.
Survey results published by Princeton University researchers in the journal PLoS ONE suggest that a family history of psychiatric conditions such as autism and depression could influence the subjects a person finds engaging.
Although preliminary, the findings provide a new look at the oft-studied link between psychiatric conditions and aptitude in the arts or sciences. While previous studies have explored this link by focusing on highly creative individuals or a person’s occupation, the Princeton research indicates that the influence of familial neuropsychiatric traits on personal interests is apparently independent of a person’s talent or career path, and could help form a person’s basic preferences and personality.
Princeton researchers surveyed nearly 1,100 students from the University’s Class of 2014 early in their freshman year to learn which major they would choose based on their intellectual interests. The students were then asked to indicate the incidence of mood disorders, substance abuse or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their family, including parents, siblings and grandparents.
Students interested in pursuing a major in the humanities or social sciences were twice as likely to report that a family member had a mood disorder or a problem with substance abuse. Students with an interest in science and technical majors, on the other hand, were three times more likely to report a sibling with an ASD, a range of developmental disorders that includes autism and Asperger syndrome.
Senior researcher Sam Wang, an associate professor in Princeton’s Department of Molecular Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, said that the survey — though not exhaustive nor based on direct clinical diagnoses — presents the idea that certain heritable psychiatric conditions are more closely linked to a person’s intellectual interests than is currently supposed…
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