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Unread February 24th, 2010, 02:53 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Arrow Suomi: Orchid Genes

David Dobbs, The Atlantic, December, 2009
"...certain variants of key behavioral genes (most of which affect either brain development or the processing of the brain's chemical messengers) make people more vulnerable to certain mood, psychiatric, or personality disorders. Bolstered over the past 15 years by numerous studies, this hypothesis, often called the "stress diathesis" or "genetic vulnerability" model, has come to saturate psychiatry and behavioral science. During that time, researchers have identified a dozen-odd gene variants that can increase a person's susceptibility to depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, heightened risk-taking, and antisocial, sociopathic, or violent behaviors, and other problems—if, and only if, the person carrying the variant suffers a traumatic or stressful childhood or faces particularly trying experiences later in life. This vulnerability hypothesis, as we can call it, has already changed our conception of many psychic and behavioral problems...

"Recently, however, an alternate hypothesis has emerged from this one and is turning it inside out. This new model suggests that it's a mistake to understand these "risk" genes only as liabilities. Yes, this new thinking goes, these bad genes can create dysfunction in unfavorable contexts—but they can also enhance function in favorable contexts. The genetic sensitivities to negative experience that the vulnerability hypothesis has identified, it follows, are just the downside of a bigger phenomenon: a heightened genetic sensitivity to all experience.

In this view, having both dandelion and orchid kids greatly raises a family's (and a species') chance of succeeding, over time and in any given environment. The behavioral diversity provided by these two different types of temperament also supplies precisely what a smart, strong species needs if it is to spread across and dominate a changing world. The many dandelions in a population provide an underlying stability. The less-numerous orchids, meanwhile, may falter in some environments but can excel in those that suit them. And even when they lead troubled early lives, some of the resulting heightened responses to adversity that can be problematic in everyday life—increased novelty-seeking, restlessness of attention, elevated risk-taking, or aggression—can prove advantageous in certain challenging situations: wars, tribal or modern; social strife of many kinds; and migrations to new environments. Together, the steady dandelions and the mercurial orchids offer an adaptive flexibility that neither can provide alone. Together, they open a path to otherwise unreachable individual and collective achievements.

In the years since Suomi took over Harlow's Wisconsin lab as a 28-year-old wunderkind, he has both broadened and sharpened the inquiry Harlow started. New tools now let Suomi examine not just his monkeys' temperaments but also the physiological and genetic underpinnings of their behavior. His lab's naturalistic environment allows him to focus not just on mother-child interactions but also on the family and social environments that shape and respond to the monkeys' behavior. "Life in a rhesus-monkey colony is very, very complicated," Suomi says. The monkeys must learn to navigate a social system that is highly nuanced and hierarchical. "Those who can manage this, do well," Suomi told me. "Those who don't, don't."

Lots more at:
Http://www.spiked-online.com/index.p...s_article/7851
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childhood stress, gxe interaction, rearing, suomi

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