Psychiatric history shapes your interests

A grandmother with depression or a brother with autism may influence your likings for subjects you find intellectually engaging, according to scientists who claim to have found a link between family psychiatric history and interests.

The research, which is based on a survey of over 1,000 freshers of Princeton University, posits a genetic influence on personal interests, the researchers said.

For example, they said, students who planned to major in the humanities or social sciences were twice as likely as other students to report a family member with a mood disorder or substance abuse.

On the other hand, they found that wannabe science and technology majors were three times as likely as other freshmen to say they had a sibling on the autism spectrum, LiveScience reported.

The results are preliminary and based on self-reports, so researchers can’t say for certain why these links exist. But according to study author Sam Wang, a professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton, the data is consistent with the idea that interests are partially heritable.

For their study, the researchers asked the students what major they would choose based on their intellectual interests.

They also asked them if their parents, siblings or grandparents had a history of mood disorders, substance abuse or autism-spectrum disorders. All of the disorders have a moderate-to-strong genetic component.

It’s found that students interested in humanities and social science were more likely than others to grow up with relatives with depression, bipolar disorder or substance abuse, while students preferring science and technology were more likely than others to have a sibling with autism.

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