Picking Your Brain: Exploring Disorders

It’s one of the most basic pillars in the temple of parenting: good mothers are those who make the effort to personally nurture their children. Those who seem to care less delegate their childrearing duties to a nanny.

And, from Dr. Dennis Friedman’s perspective, doom their sons to a life of infidelity.

In his book “The Unsolicited Gift,” Dr. Friedman argues that a son who is cared for by a nanny will perceive her actions as part of a double-standard — one in which another woman will always be present to provide for his basic needs. This belief manifests itself later in life as the son’s unfaithfulness to his wife, during which he explores his desire for another woman’s care via an extramarital affair.

As Dr. Friedman puts it, “It introduces him to the concept of the other woman.”

Or as Tiger Woods would say to the divorce judge, “My mom made me do it.”

So chalk up another repercussion to the art of irresponsible parenting. And whether you believe them or not, Dr. Friedman’s findings are simply the latest in a long chain of curious — and equally controversial — psychoanalytic findings that would interest even Sigmund Freud. It is perhaps not as controversial as Freud’s own Oedipus complex theory (i.e. “all sons want to take their moms to bed”), but still very intriguing.

Take depression. As is widely established in the field of psychology, depression is characterized by a “recursive loop of woe.”

However, according to Psychiatrist Andy Thomson and Evolutionary Psychologist Paul Andrews, depression also enhances cognition in unexpected manners. As cited in the February 2010 New York Times article, “Depression’s Upside,” studies have revealed increased blood flow to the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) in depressed patients. This area of the brain is associated with various cognitive abilities (such as conceptual knowledge and verb conjugation) and more importantly, the capacity to maintain attention on a concept or task.

In layman’s terms, depression sharpens the mental focus of the afflicted, allowing them to engage in intricately analytical thought.

This could go a long way in explaining why, for instance, many of our greatest writers have also led tragic and melancholic lives. Even in the field of American literature alone, we have F. Scott Fitzgerald (alcoholism), Ernest Hemingway (suicide) and Edgar Allan Poe (spousal bereavement/mental instability) as examples of authors whose melancholy may have contributed to the profundity of their works.

Thus, when Aristotle claimed in the 4th century B.C. that “all men who have attained excellence in philosophy, in poetry, in art and in politics […] had a melancholic habitus,” he might have been on to something. On the other hand, as critics of this study claim, Thomson’s and Andrews’ findings constitute “little more than irresponsible speculation, a justification for human suffering.”

Depression as a detrimental disorder or as a cognitive stimulant? You decide.

Another groundbreaking finding that deals with psychological disorders has to do with individuals who lack racial biases. As noted by Janelle Weaver in her April 2010 Scientific American article, “Children who form no racial stereotypes found,” those with a neurodevelopmental disorder called Williams syndrome (WS) are overly friendly because they don’t fear strangers. This disorder also precludes them from judging others based on their race.

In a study published in April 2010 in the magazine “Current Biology,” a team of researchers showed 18 pictures to 40 children between ages five and 16 — half with WS and half without, and all of white European descent.

The children were read stories about unspecified individuals with negative traits (naughtiness and dirtiness) and positive traits (pretty and smart), and were then directed to associate the stories’ characters to pictures of dark and light-skinned people.

The children without WS assigned positive traits to the light-skinned characters, and negative traits to the dark-skinned ones. This correlated with previous studies on white and black children. However, the children with WS did not display any such bias.

As concluded by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, director of Germany’s Central Institute of Mental Health and leader of the aforementioned study, “social fear is not required for gender stereotyping, but it is important in forming racial stereotypes.”

Though the experiment does not conclude whether racial stereotyping is genetically or experientially determined, it does open up a new forum of discussion about race.

As MIT Neuroscientist John Gabrieli comments, “Until this study, I think people never imagined that [this stereotype] would be biologically separable. Whether it turns out to be due to genes, the environment or a complicated interaction, it shifts the discussion.”

So whether you’re seeking answers for your risk of marital infidelity, the effects of depression or societal attitudes toward race, you can rest easily knowing that the world’s psychoanalysts are hard at work dissecting the inner workings of your mind.