FA058 – Anatomy of Pregnancy Stress

Pregnancy and StressDoctors Brian and Giuseppe talk about the impact of stress during pregnancy, along with post-partum depression, and what to do about it.

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.

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Research Looks at How Environment and Genetics Interact to Produce Schizophrenia

Andrew Feinberg, M.D., MPH, of Johns Hopkins University is leading a study, funded by The National Institute of Mental Health, into determining how environment and genetics interact to produce schizophrenia. Most researchers believe that schizophrenia has a large genetic component that determines who experiences this disorder. For instance, studies have consistently shown that there is a higher incidence of schizophrenia in identical twins, than in fraternal twins, which in turn have a higher incidence than siblings in general. However, even in identical twins, if one of the kids have schizophrenia, there is still only a 50% chance that the other child will too – despite the fact that they have identical genes. Researchers now believe that there are likely genetic markers for schizophrenia and that these genes express themselves only when there is an environmental trigger. The research hopes to decipher the intricate interplay between genes and environment in producing schizophrenia.

You can read more here.

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for information only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.

Santa Claus, Part 2: Should You Teach "Santa Clausology"?

Most parents with a Christian background teach their children about Santa Claus. While the tradition began with a mixture of Christian St Nicolas and pagan rituals centered on the winter soltice, today Santa Claus is a clearly a secular figure.

There are typically three different objections to teaching about Santa Claus. First, there are those who mourn the fact that he has overtaken the true meaning of Christmas that is meant to commemorate the birth of Jesus. The next set of objections has to do with how Santa Claus symbolizes the commercialism of Christmas given that his main function is to deliver material possessions to girls and boys. The third concern centers around teaching your child about a person who does not exist and in effect, lying to your children.

While the research into these areas is admittedly scant, there is no evidence that any of these concerns make teaching about Santa Claus harmful to kids. Parents who are concerned about how Santa detracts from their religious faith can make special provisions to ensure that their child understands the spiritual significance of Christmas, by going to mass, engaging in prayer or participating in any number of other religious traditions and practices. Those who worry about the commercialization of Christmas can choose to replace buying material objects for one another with donating money or gifts to those less fortunate, or going out for a special family diner. Similarly, those who feel they are lying to their children when they tell their kids about Santa, have the choice of not doing so. Whether a child learns about Santa Claus or not, there is no evidence that it is of any lasting consequence one way or another.

Getting Intelligence

Psychologist Richard Nisbett’s February 2009 book, “Intelligence and How to Get it”, looks at the important contribution experience and environment make to IQ. In the book, he argues that the commonly held view that genes are the main determinant of intelligence is mistaken. His critique centers on flaws in the research. Most research, according to Dr. Nisbett, focus on twins raised in “different” environments. The problem is that kids raised apart tend to be in very similar environments. When studies look at kids who have been raised in very dissimilar environments, a large discrepancy in measured IQ scores is seen. More specifically when a subset of kids are studied, for instance, when poor kids are adopted into upper middle class families, the typical increase in IQ is 15 points. In addition, Dr. Nesbitt notes that if people at the beginning of the 20th Century were given today’s IQ measure, half would be considered mentally retarded. Clearly, culture and education has had an impact.

The debate about the greater impact of genes versus environment should have been resolved some time ago. Trying to isolate genes from experience is very difficult in that there is a moment to moment interaction between the two that makes them intricately intertwined and in many ways inseparable. Arguments persist due to the socio-political implications of giving greater import to one over the other. If genes are the main determinants of intelligence then, by extension,  we should not be wasting money trying to improve the impoverished environments in which many kids grow up. Why waste tax dollars? Dr. Nisbett’s book notwithstanding, the general trend over the last 20 years has been to over-emphasize genetics. This is due to the improved technology that is allowing us to take a closer look at genes and their potential impact on behaviour, as well as due to the conservative political trends that have predominated over the past twenty years. The general tenor of our times is one of neurogenetic determinism. The problem is that this lack of balance tends to lead to a polarization of the arguments on either side.

How do you feel about this issue? Leave us a comment!

You can read more here and here. You can also listen to a podcast featuring a talk by Professor Nisbett here.

Subscribe to The Family Anatomy Podcast by clicking here, or get your free subscription directly through iTunes.

Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for information only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.