Has the environment truly shaped us?

This past week we looked at two articles that I found were quite unlike the ones we have previously looking at, mainly that they weren’t empirical papers, and that they weren’t that very scientific either. They were more accounts of schizophrenia and about encountering them. One aspect that I found quite fascinating about this mental illness is that it seems to have a high correlation with intelligence. I know somebody else already touched upon this, but I would like to touch upon it as well. I was just thinking about how often I have heard people with autism or asberger’s having high intelligence, and what these labels actually mean, which seems to also be a common theme throughout our seminar – labeling symptoms and disorders and reducing them down to these, which stems from commonality, but that doesn’t take into account the number of differences involved with each individual. I came across this blog in Psychology Today that seemed to be thinking along the same lines I am, and I thought I would share it with you guys because it might be able to articulate what I’m trying to say in a more understandable way. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/200903/schizophrenic-thought-madness-or-potential-genius

From reading this post, I have noticed that our field tends to focus a lot on negative disorders, and has made me wonder what the brain of a “genius” or savant looks like, and whether it is a sign of ‘evolution’ in that we are becoming a smarter species, or if it is a defective mutation with positive side effects. I am being hypocritical here in reducing this all down to biology, and perhaps these disorders and mental illnesses are also influenced very much by social environments as well. http://www.sma.org.sg/sma_news/3403/commentary.pdf this article that I found points out some interesting facts on page in relation to mentors and “clusters of excellence.” I found this very relatable to the “Crazy Like Us” chapter, in which “researcher’s believe that the experience of being criticized or constantly observed and judged parallels the experience of the disease itself” (153). I have never really explored the idea of how much environment can play a role in forming an illness, as I feel like we live in a very biological era in that many things get reduced to biology, but I think it’s important to note the profound effect that an environment has on individuals, even it is hard to pin point and understand. The chapter further quotes Janis Hunter Jenkins: “a culture provides its members with an available repertoire of affective and behavioral responses to the human condition, including illness” which I think is also a good point that should be considered in the differences of treating illnesses. A culture or society can strongly shape the way in which people deal with illnesses, and especially mental illnesses, as was clearly seen with schizophrenia in Zanzibar. As much as there are geniuses that can mentor and foster geniuses, there must be people suffering from mental illness influencing and fostering the exact same thing. I believe that it is likely that genetics is involved with schizophrenia, and perhaps to some degree in other mental illnesses as well, but I also think the environment and experiences someone goes through have a great deal of influence on how they develop and the degree to which they manifest.

5 thoughts on “Has the environment truly shaped us?

  1. Thanks for sharing these links, Natasha! They are very interesting and really help to flesh out the ‘debate’ about these issues that you mentioned. I think these are really compelling arguments presented, and I often find myself wondering about whether or not savantism is some variety of evolution, or like you say, something severe that has gone wrong but has a ‘positive’ side effect.


  2. I too was thinking about what the brain of a Savant may look like and so I read up on it and found this paper that discusses various features of Savant Syndrome.In light of the fact that the skills tend to be right hemisphere in type (non-symbolic, artistic,concrete, and directly perceived, in contrast to left hemisphere skills that are more sequential, logical, and symbolic, including language specialization), one popular hypothesis seems to be that of “Left Brain Injury and Right Brain Compensation” (Since i couldn’t find the date of the article here’s a direct link for those interested- http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/system/files/savant_article.pdf) This compensatory nature of the brain’s functioning is somewhat in line with what I also touched upon in my post in terms of compensation for a “misconnection” of some sort. The article also talks about some interesting research that is being done on “healthy volunteers” by exploring the use of rTMS to temporarily immobilize portions of left hemisphere function to see if dysfunction in the left side could produce savant like abilities in healthy volunteers.


  3. I like your idea of positive disorders, even though that seems to be an oxymoron in itself due to the negative connotation that “disorders” comes with. I think a study on savantism would be fun and we could delve into the possibilities the human brain has and how we can harness these amazing abilities. Both positive and negative disorders are really interesting and I would love to study more about both.


  4. “researcher’s believe that the experience of being criticized or constantly observed and judged parallels the experience of the disease itself” (153).

    Wow! Perhaps that is the exact reason for these cultural differences. Even what we are doing now, discussing and scrutinizing over schizophrenia, will cause us to reinforce this critical air when we actually meet a schizophrenic individual (probably due to out basic knowledge of the disorder and our curiosity).


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