A GoodTherapy.org News Update
As medical science progresses into the twenty-first century and new, incredible breakthroughs abound, it can be tempting to suppose that our biology as humans is a reigning force in our lives. And in many ways, it is. Within the realm of genetics, we are finding that some people are, in a sense, “pre-determined” for developing various ailments, and mental health issues are no exception. Yet it is not necessarily the case that we are powerless over our health in areas where genetics have a role to play. Quite the contrary, as evidenced by a new study focusing on high-risk individuals for depression and anxiety disorders, as well as alcohol and substance abuse.
The study responsible for this victory, headed by John Capitanio, Ph.D., appears in the May issue of Biological Psychiatry and sheds new light on the nature versus nurture debate, reminding us that the truth may again rest somewhere between these two poles. Capitanio and his team worked with a population of monkeys, first identifying which infants among them were genetically “tagged” for anxious or depressive behaviors. Studying the monkeys within a set of four different upbringing environments, including large and small social groups and dynamics that encompassed nurturing and neglectful or abusive patterns, the researchers put this genetic predisposition to the test.
Results were strongly in favor of the idea that complex, open, and nurturing environments were a stronger determining factor in the appearance of mental disorder symptoms than were genetics. Monkeys tagged as having a high genetic risk for anxious, depressive, addictive, or abusive behaviors did not exhibit symptoms when reared in an environment that promoted positive and healthy behavior. While these results encourage hope for overcoming genetic setbacks in mental health, the researchers note that some social aspects of upbringing can subtly interrupt the benefits of a nurturing environment; though delivering positive news, the study thus also calls for more extensive research.
© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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