Family History of Substance Abuse Linked to Majoring in Humanities

If your family has a history of bipolar disorder or substance abuse, your college major is more likely to be in the humanities or social sciences. On the other hand, having a sibling, parent or grandparent with an autism spectrum disorder makes you more likely to major in science or technology, according to a new study from Princeton University.

Dr. Sam Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, and his co-author Benjamin Campbell interviewed almost 1,100 students early in their freshman year at Princeton about their proposed majors, which would not be formally declared until their sophomore year. The researchers also inquired if siblings, parents or grandparents had histories of mood disorders, substance abuse, and autism spectrum disorder in order to find correlations between the psychiatric problems and the choices of major.

Dr. Wang believes that this new study shows that genetic factors are involved in normal as well as abnormal functioning and decision-making. He noted that the results of his work indicate that there are common genetic factors that "launch us down a path in life, leading most people to pursue specific interests and in extreme cases, leading others toward psychiatric disorders."

"Until our work, evidence of a connection between neuropsychiatric disorders and artistic aptitude, for example, was based on surveying creative people, where creativity is usually defined in terms of occupation or proficiency in an artistic field," Dr. Wang said. "But what if there is a broader category of people associated with bipolar or depression, people who think the arts are interesting? The students we surveyed are not all F. Scott Fitzgerald, but many more of them might like to read F. Scott Fitzgerald."

This study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

On February 11th, 2012, posted in: Mental Health by Tags: