Nature, nurture, and evolution:

A discussion of the significance of genetics and evolution for understanding human behavior

Senior Seminar in Neural and Behavioral Sciences
Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, Spring, 2002

Session 4: The Genetics of "Psychopathology" and "Personality"
(Readings and Web Links)

Name:  Rebecca Roth
Subject:  "Psychopathology" and "Personality"
Date:  2002-03-18 12:58:11
Message Id:  1500

To even begin to define personality is complex. There are many different approaches that can be taken when looking at the different perspectives of intelligence (for example: cognitive, behaviorist, humanist). By examining the relationship between personality and psychopathology you can see the relationship between certain personality dimensions and DSM diagnostic categories.

There can be no single gene that can define personality traits. Personality has to be influenced by multiple genes and various factors. For instance, environmental sources of variation in the environment are important. We know people's personality changes depending on what environment and situation they are in. Many people would act differently around a boss than they would act around their friends. Parental upbringing has to have some type of effect on personality.

The genetics of disorders have to do with both heritability and environmentability. To understand the psychopathology of disorders, one usually looks at family, MZ and DZ twins and adopted children. Mental illness can run in families, which shows that genetics plays a role. But genes do not determine everything. For example, sometimes one identical twin develops schizophrenia and the other twin doesn't. Therefore, influences other than genes probably are the reason. Schizophrenia looked at across different cultures could possibly show social and cultural influences. However, as the article on 'The Puzzle of Hypertension of African- Americans' said, pyschological and social stresses are extrememly difficult to measure, especially across cultures. "Identification of a gene associated with a greater susceptibility to a disorder is not equivalent to the cause of the condition." What influences a disorder is not always available for data. There are subtle differences in the brain which can make a big difference when discussing and understanding disorders. Understanding the brain is very complex. Even understanding the hereditary aspects of disorders is complicated. Stresses early in life can cause depression, however I don't see it as the only factor. Stressful life events and genetic factors probably both contribute to depression. But, how should you and do you treat those patients?Psychotherapeutically or pharmacologically? Drugs can have side effects. Should everyone be treated who has been exposed to a traumatic event? After the World Trade Center Attack, many people will not be emotionally the same again. How should we go about treating each individual; with therapy or drugs? What about people who feel they do not need any help?

Name:  Huma Rana
Subject:  Personality
Date:  2002-03-19 21:05:13
Message Id:  1524

The relationship between personality and psychopathology is a difficult one to decipher. I would like to say that the two are on a continuum of behavior and that psychopathologies are characterized by extremes in personality. For instance a common personality trait is "being a ham" while an extreme form of this may be classified as a histrionic personality disorder by the DSM. It seems like some behaviors that transcend societal norms transition from personality flaws into psychopathologies. Although I like the idea of putting personality and psychopathology on a continuum, I'm uncertain about this because it is too simplistic and does a disservice to the mentally ill. It creates a problem by implying that the mentally ill could be "normal" if they somehow toned down their eccentricities. To me, it tends to put the focus on individual control or will rather than exploring the multitude of psychological-biological-social factors that can influence one's personality/psychopathology.

There is some influence of genes on personality and psychopathology. Studies on autism have showed that certain alleles (ex: HOXA 1) may be correlated with the disorder. However, it seems that most personality traits and mental illness are probably influenced by an assortment of genes. Also, it is important to acknowledge the role of the environment in all of this. For instance, the diathesis-stress models of depression, schizophrenia, and other psychopathologies are imperative in blending the roles of genes and environment. I'd have to agree with Carey, that once again, it is lemonade.

The exploration of the genetics of psychopathology and personality is extremely important and can immediately benefit society. I never fully grasped the importance of coming up with exact percentages regarding heritability of traits until reading the personal stories in the NIMH readings. These accounts conveyed the intense fear of not knowing if one's 2nd child will also have autism, or if otherwise normal kids will develop uncontrollable schizophrenia in their teens/early twenties. For people with family histories of mental illness, it would be helpful to know how much of a role genes play and whether or not they carry genes that cause certain susceptibilities. This knowledge will help people make an informed decision regarding reproduction, alleviate fears, and prepare them for what is to come.

It seems like certain areas of research have reached a plateau in what they can tell us about heritability and genetics. Family studies and MZ/DZ twin studies can only tell us so much and nothing can really be manipulated leaving countless confounds. Ideally, manipulating one portion of a gene at a time, cloning people, and raising them in the same exact environment (in a lab), and then testing their personality differences would answer my questions, but at this point, that is not legal, ethical or possible.

Name:  Jess
Username:  jgoldenb
Subject:  Psychopathology vs personality
Date:  2002-03-19 23:00:43
Message Id:  1528
I'm somewhat confused at where to draw the line between personalality and psychopathology. For example, some people tend to be pessimists and have a generally flat affect but should and would not be classified as depressed according to the DSM. I would consider these people to simply have a depressive out look on life- simply a personlity trait. Someone who is clinically depressed may or may not have that personality type but definetely has the criteria to have a Depressed psychopathology. Notice with the first example I referred to depression as a "little d" where as in the second example I used a "capital D". The person in the first example suffers from a more milder form which is present throughout their life time, whereas the person in the second example suffers acutely, but not necessarily for a lifetime. Someone in the second example would probably be more responsive to treatment. These two seem clearly different . . .

But then the line gets blurred when you start talking about personality disorders. This type of psychopathology is definetely part of a person's personality and stays with them throughout their lifetime. It is also more resistent to treatment. People in this category seem to have both a psychopathology and personality that is intermixed.

It seems to me that there is more of a genetic predisposition towards psychopathology then towards personality. I get this feeling simply because I have seen all the strong data pointing towards a genetic link with mental illness and have seen it in practice. But from personal experience I don't see a great deal of consistency of personality within the families I know. There is some, but it is not as strong as it is with psychopathology. Also as far as I have seen there has not been a great deal, if any data published on the biological basis for personality whereas every mental disorder has had at least some, if not a great deal published on the neurobiology of it.

Name:  jimmy
Subject:  Session 4
Date:  2002-03-20 02:07:43
Message Id:  1533
When discussing personality, we can easily come across the same trouble as we did in discussing consciousness namely how to define it. Is personality just a set of behaviors that other people describe you as having? Is it just the sum of executive control? Is it some underlying thread that is the root of all your decisions/actions/etc? Is it just a sum of all your memory and how they influence you? Or is it some mystical concept along the lines of a soul? These are important questions to come to terms on in such a group as ours because if we are talking about personality in terms of souls for instance, our discussion relating it to psychopathology may not be very productive or maybe it will but certainly it would be very different than if we consider personality in terms of executive functions.

I think for our discussion it is better to use at least a more concrete idea of personality such as the reports of other people or the sum of our actions. The two terms are related in that Psychopathology can change our Personalities. As a person develops a disorder, changes may occur in their behavior. This behavior often can reveal the personality, or at least personality-tendencies, of the subject in quantifiable measures making it very useful.

The value of studying genetic behind psychopathology and personality I think is important but it cannot be the whole picture. Certainly in the depression article it was very apparent that the biochemical aspects were critical in our understanding of that disorder. With autism, a critical jump in research was made thanks to genetic research thanks to ingenuity with knockout mice. This was important because it lead researchers to identify a possible gene and variant alleles that could be found in human chromosome 7. Again this does not tell the whole picture but the genetic research is very helpful.

Although it is "helpful" (sorry for the vague term) there is a danger in how far we go with the knowledge we gain. Selecting for happy (as suggested in the fictitious article) kids for instance is not necessarily the best way to use our knowledge. I think that these are definitely dangerous areas where we may be getting involved in things we shouldn't take any part in.

Name:  Mary Schlimme
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Psychopathology and Personality
Date:  2002-03-20 02:11:11
Message Id:  1534
I think that the relationship between psychopathology and personality is a very complex one and thus it is hard to tease the two apart. I think that they are related in some way, but to me the direction of the relationship is still unclear. Is it the case that one's personality affects the development of psychopathology or could it be the other way around, that psychopathology affects one's personality? Extending Carey's arguments, it seems to me that it is probably one's personality that affects psychopathology more than the reverse explanation, although I wouldn't be surprised if both were true to some extent. The diathesis-stress model of psychopathology can be used to integrate this idea as well - if one's personality displays certain traits related to a particular psychopathology, then it would make sense that placed in a particular amount of stress that person is more likely to develop a particular disorder.
Exploring the underlying genetics of psychopathology and personality is useful, but as we have stated before, I think that this area needs to be explored with caution. It can certainly be lucrative to discover the genes (as there are probably more than one) that interact in a particular disorder so that we can determine how to treat the disorder more effectively and perhaps to prevent it altogether. Similarly, it would be useful to know what genes play an important role in certain personality traits, but we should be careful in how we handle this information once it is obtained. The Hamer article was both exciting and scary to me in this respect I think it would be fascinating to decide what personality traits my child will have...however, by removing the element of surprise in the whole child-rearing process we can run into several problems. We should remember that while certain genes may help contribute to personality/psychopathology, they aren't the only contributing factor. Some parents may become upset when their child acts sad and they didn't give him the "sad" genes and they may treat the child as though he has a problem and it's his fault since they "programmed" him to be happy. It's also kind of scary to me that we could eliminate sadness altogether simply by deciding that it wasn't a worthwhile trait the women in the article decided to give their child the ability to "ride the ups and downs's roller coaster," but what if they hadn't chosen that route? Their child would have been a significantly different person in my opinion.
The readings from this week pretty much convinced me that one's personality is fairly stable over time (at least as an adult), but I don't know exactly how much of that is mediated by genetics. As Carey mentioned, the data on child's personalities are mixed and there are problems with the research methods. However, the data showing that one twin's personality can effectively predict the other twins personality ten years later is rather interesting, and suggests a possible genetic component to personality. The twin/adoption studies also suggest that personality is strongly influenced by genetics, so it might be that the discrepancy in the child data is in fact due to the limited measures of children's personalities. I also think that there is a genetic influence in many psychopathologies, and that the diathesis-stress model is a good model for explaining how genetics and the environment can interact in a particular disorder.
My uncertainties about my answers most concern the relationship between personality and psychopathology, and to resolve these uncertainties I would like to read more articles that integrate the two. As I've stated, I'm not exactly sure of the causal link between the two (if there is one) and I'd be interested in studying this area more. Finally, I think an interesting point to make is that personality seems to be very stable over time and to change one's personality can be difficult if not impossible, whereas psychopathology does not necessarily begin at birth and can be altered significantly with the passage of time. What does this then imply for the relationship between the two?
Name:  Julia Diepold
Subject:  week 4
Date:  2002-03-20 08:54:06
Message Id:  1535
Psychopathology and personality might be considered in a continuum where pathologies are negative extremes of some characteristics. In adolecent development for example, people like Anna freud talk about every adolescent going through a period of adolescent turmoil. The feelings they have in this transition can become part of their personality, the new ways they feel may effect how they behave in certain situations. Anna Freud saw the extremes as her clients and wrote about how all adolescents go through a similar but not as extreme stage. All of this is only true if the belief is hold that personality is plastic. If we believe that it is constant, then the differences in the way adolescents handle the transition of adolescent turmoil may then be attributed to personality itself.

Personality is certainly complicated. It seems plastic in respect to influences in the environment, both chemical and social. When my brother or other friends with attention disorders talk about their experience taking ritalin or aderol they claim it changes their whole personality and don't like taking the drugs because of this despite the postive impact the drugs have on their grades. There also seem to be many examples of where the social environment influences or changes personality, over time, like abuse or even a job that's bearing and stressful, or just in one event like the world trade center bombing, or your baby being born.

Everything we are seems somehow related to genes, not always just what genes we have, but how and when they are expressed. I think most would agree that we have personality traits similar to our parents as much we don't like to admit it. Genetic influence on personality or psychopathology might be useful in someways as a starting off point, but definitely does not tell the whole picture how or why certain genes came to be expressed when and caused what changes that might possibly lead to personality. Basically it is all just lemonade, we have to be content with this mixture, and find other ways to explore treatments and explanations for psychpathology because there is no methodological way to separate the sweet lemony concoction back into its orginal ingredients. There's no rewind button on life why would we try to study it that way?

Name:  Caitlin Costello
Date:  2002-03-20 10:52:20
Message Id:  1538
It seems that with personality and psychopathology, genetic factors contribute significantly, but do not provide a complete explanation. Much like behavior. And intelligence. And with our current evidence and evidence-gathering capabilities, I find myself able to be convinced of that rather vague statement and not much else, specifically not to what extent genes influence personality. I'm not even sure it makes much sense to answer that question...if we were to say, for example, that happiness is 60% genetic, what does that mean? That I could be 40% happier or 40% less happy given a different environment? Of course not...and given the interactions of genes and environment, we would never even be able to put such a number on it. So again I find myself frustrated with trying to conclude if and how and how much genes influence personality, since again it is a question we can't now answer and even if we could the answer wouldn't probably tell us much, and we run into the same problems with the ways we have to test heritability and such (e.g. MZ/DZ twin problem, which seems like it might be even more an issue with personality, given the possibility of profound compunding influences of two already more similar twins on each other's personalities).

So to say something specific to personality and psychopathology and thus avoid just recycling last week's posting...the relationship between the two is difficult to understand and subject to societal constructions. With such disorders as depression, anxiety, etc., there seems clearly to be a continuum where being depressed or anxious at times is "normal" but somewhere along the line it is labeled as a "pathology". These cutoffs are necessarily arbitrary and might represent the point where functioning is significantly impaired (or the place where the person becomes significantly unpleasant to be around). With something like depression, with its various symptomology in different people and various personal histories, it seems that the genetic components are likely very complicated, a complication that is, I think, tied to its relation to personality...a period of sadness and disinterest for a generally cheery person might be distressing enough for that person to seek help for clinical depression, whereas the same state might not be far from "normal" for someone with a generally depressive outlook. When these symptoms represent a change from the usual state, they are a pathology; but they might be inherent facets of personality for some people. And since the genetic factors on personality are really complicated, those on psychopathology must be too. But then when you think of a disorder like schizophrenia, a continuum is not as evident...not so many people hallucinate just a little bit, and even if they did that would probably not be considered a "normal" degree of hallucination. That there is no normal here reflects to me the disorder's separation from personality...although colloquially we speak of people as having "schizophrenic personalities", I don't think that's really what's not just an extreme of a spectrum that has normal at its other end. Of course, when someone is experiencing severe symptoms of schizophrenia, the disorder tends to usurp whatever personality the person had before, so even here psychopathology and personality are related. For disorders like this one which seem more discrete and separate from general personality, I think I would be more likely to buy into a more simple genetic explanation, although the Carey chapter didn't. The stress-diathesis model regarding various psychopathologies is kind of appealing, and makes a good deal of sense for people who had traumatic childhoods, but with depression anyway, there are an awful lot of people who did not. Is their "predetermined threshold" so low that they will develop depression no matter what the circumstances? But in that case, it seems like non-trauma related depression would be more heritable...

Name:  Elizabeth Olson
Subject:  personality
Date:  2002-03-20 14:26:50
Message Id:  1541
The relationship between personality and psychopathology is an extremely interesting one to me. I think that it is very tempting to develop a model of psychopathology that describes it in terms of lying at either end of a normal personality 'spectrum.' For example, people diagnosed with GAD might represent an extreme overexpression of the 'normal' personality characteristic of anxiety, while people with autism might represent an extreme underexpression of the 'normal' personality characteristic of sociability. There are some respects in which I think that this model represents an oversimplification of psychopathology, however. Particularly, I think that many types of psychopathology consist of clusters of traits that are found in a specific pattern, and that these traits are not necessarily grouped together in 'normal' personalities. Perhaps psycholopathologies such as the schizophrenias might best be described as unique groupings of under-and-overexpressed 'normal' personality dimensions.
One of the major questions that I have about the 'usefulness' of genetic explanations is that, despite having read the Carey chapters, I am still unclear about how these researchers determine that they are investigating at an appropriate level of analysis. For example, I remember that in Becky Compton's Biopsychology of Emotions class we discussed a study which indicated that there is a genetic basis for the personality trait of "religiousity." I do not understand how these authors, or authors of studies examining a number of other personality traits, are able to conclude that the results are reflecting the actual trait of "religiousity," rather than a different, higher-order trait (such as, perhaps, authoritarianism, or something). While religiousity seems to be a rather extreme example, it seems to me that this is a methodological concern that would extend to the study of almost any personality trait-- how can you be sure that the trait that you are interested in is the one that you are measuring, rather than some other, higher-order trait?
Name:  Nirupama Kumar
Subject:  luck of the draw
Date:  2002-03-20 14:33:43
Message Id:  1542

I am not sure if there is a specific relationship between psychopathology and personality, other than the fact that they are usually discussed under the domain of psychology instead of biology. Both are like many other traits with genetic diathesis influenced by the environment. Although, personality seems to be harder to pinpoint, because personality is not as easy to quantify. The lack of visibility of heritability may be casued by this vagueness, or simply indicative of the fact that personality is strongly influenced by outside factors.

I think that exploration of genetics in psychopathology and personality is extremely useful. If we don't understand the mechanisms they work with, then how can we claim to understand them at all? If we can pinpoint the genetics of these things we can deduce evolutionary clues from this information as to why they developed the way they did in the first place. Also, it is useful to keep in mind that we are still evolving.

Current observation does not provide real genetic diathesis for personality. The evidence for psychopathology is somewhat more solid, but also admits the influence of environment in the biological diathesis/stress models of disorder development. I found the MZ/DZ and adoption studies pretty compelling evidence for the heritability of certain disorders. Such studies, though, involving the different hypertension rates of blacks across the world detracted from the influence of genetics. It is clear that some traits are more heavily influenced by the environment than others. However, that study failed to show the genetic closeness of the different groups of blacks studied. There are many different ethnic groups in Africa itself, and this detail cannot be overlooked.

Name:  hiro :)
Date:  2002-03-20 15:49:14
Message Id:  1545
I am also having a hard time drawing a line between psychopathology and personality. As some of us have already suggested, I feel that psychopathology is just a extreme case of personality and that there is a continuum between the two. For example, let's say that we have three people: a happy person, a little sad/pessimistic person, and a person diagnosed as depressed. After reading about the neurochemical aspects of depression, I believe that the sad person simply has lower level of synaptic serotonin/norepinepherine than the happy one, and the depressed shows even lower level of the neurotransmitters than the sad. If psychopathology is simply the extention of personality, I don't think it would make much sense to study the two areas separately.

However, I also think that making distinction between personality and psychopathology is important in scientific studies because I feel that the genetic studies of psychopathology is far more helpful than those of personality. I do not think that genetic studies on personality is very useful since the environmental factors, which occurs by chance, can alter one's personality throughout their life. As long as the resulting personality does not prevent the person from living independently, there is nothing serious to worry about - at least, the person does not require medical attention. However, in case of psychopathology, such as autism or depression, the victim cannot live by himself. If genetic studies can discover the critical genes and ways to prevent such difficulties in one's life, the genetics of psychopathology will be very valuable. Of course, like personalities, psychopathology also depends on the environmental factors, so the genetics alone would not prevent every case of autism or depression. However, the studies may able to prevent some cases at least.

There are more reasons for whey I do not see importance in personality studies. Like in the fiction, maybe parents will be able to choose the personality of their children in the future. However, everyone already has different personality, and hence, the personality that may appear attractive to the parents may not be pleasing to others. Some people have personality that allows them to see positive characteristics in often neglected people (because of their pessimim or bad temper or whatever) and feel affections toward those socially unaccepted ones. Besides, personality is very complicated - it is not just the matter of being happy or sad, and genetic studies probably fails to come up with generalization of personality traits.

Althogh I have mentioned that personality development depends on environmental factors, too, genetic factors also may influence how someone's personality development is affected by environmental factors. Two people could grow up in the same environment and still could have very different personalities. I suspect that the difference in suceptibility to environmentally caused change in the brain structure (or the neurochemical systems) arises from the difference in the genetic make-up of the two people.

Now, this is unrelated to what I have discussed so far, but as I was reading "The Neurobiology of Depression", I came up with a question. The rats study showed that maternally deprived rats displayed signs of depression as adults. If these rats were given antidepressants as neonates (while being separated from their mothers), would they still show increased level of CRF concentrations in several areas of the brain in their adulthood?

Name:  in/grid
Subject:  personality
Date:  2002-03-21 11:06:39
Message Id:  1556
I wanted to make one quick comment on the intelligence topic. Today during our discussion we made the distinction between heritability (expressing personality (Or intelligence) that is similar to our parents) and gene expression (expressing what it is our new genes say). That's what I meant three weeks ago when we were discussing Intelligence and that I don't feel like we necessarily get it from our parents but we do get it from our genes. (I mean, we get it From, but it may not look LIKE them).

Next. I think the conversation went relatively well today, and though I'm sorry I missed responding to this earlier, I'm glad I got a chance to refine some of my beliefs through listening to the discussion.

I wanted to put up this link to a Jungian Personality test. Though there's a stigma that follows his name, and people don't find him so scientific. I feel that the expression of the 'science' (the gene influence of personality) is manifest in individuals in ways that are still hard to quantify and calculate. I think that this test and what it looks at are the key to personality. I like the distinction that we made today between Identity and Personality. I Do believe that personality is more stable and that they are more like things in How we interact with situations, not just What we do. I think the introvert/extrovert example is a very good one.

Here's the link. Though it doesn't seem so official it does have over 50 questions it calculates and does it in a relatively sophisticated way. It's quite similar to the 'official' tests. Though those are more fun to do.

Personally I'd be interested in finding out what everyone gets as an answer and if they're pleased with it. You don't have to share them, necessarily but it could be interesting. I'm an INTP. And I think that's pretty close to who I am. Not only that, but I took this in Highschool for a class (the official version) and I had the same thing, even back then. And I feel like I have changed as a person since then. At least Identity wise, but also on some general outlooks on life. Yet I still get this same score. That means a lot to me, and I feel that it is in concordance with my personal views on the topic.

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