Defying Prognosis

Elyn Saks is an incredibly accomplished woman with a resume that absolutely astounds me. In addition to receiving her law degree from Yale, she is a professor of multiple subjects, is associate dean of research at USC, an honorary Doctor of Law, and received the “Genius Grant” which she used to create the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics. Elyn also happens to suffer from chronic schizophrenia, a mental illness characterized by its hallmarks of delusions and hallucinations. The stereotype associated with the illness is one of an unaccomplished individual, institutionalized or otherwise unaccomplished, and—indeed—this is the prognosis doctors gave her when she was first diagnosed.

It’s then fitting her proudest accomplishments is staying out of psychiatric hospitals for thirty years; however, this isn’t to say her life was a walk in the park. For instance, the way she describes her experiences throughout law school are recounted in a horribly visceral way. I felt like I was experiencing her delusions of having murdered millions of people or her hallucinations of men with knives right alongside her. All of this while getting a law degree, too. (I can barely make it by with depression—I can’t even fathom something of schizophrenia’s scale.)

Graphic too were her descriptions of her various hospitalizations. On one occasion, she was forced onto a metal table and strapped to it until she was completely immobilized. Later, she was involuntarily hospitalized. On another occasion, Elyn was left up to twenty hours in restraints despite posing no harm—which she rightfully deems a form of dehumanizing torture since you are disregarding a human being’s volition. As a result, she naturally wanted to be rid of her illness and began quitting her medication because “the less medicine, the less defective,” but this only led to a direr psychotic episode, after which she acknowledged the illness was not something she could continue to hide from. This is a critical moment in any mentally ill person’s life since I think it the choice to tackle the problem head on instead of dance around its edges.. From personal experience, the mind responds better to a good slap and challenge than hesitance. Commitment is needed.

Elyn asserts her success is due to three factors.

First, she’s the recipient of excellent treatment, going to psychotherapy four to five times a week for the past few decades.

Second, she’s been blessed with an extensive network of close, supportive friends and family members who are aware of her illness. This reportedly gives her a depth to life and aides her through the rough patches.

Third, she cites a supportive workplace which embraces her needs and offers intellectual stimulation. Again, from personal experience, having a workplace be responsive to your concerns is incredibly validating, releasing a huge amount of pressure.

Despite this, Elyn didn’t disclose her diagnosis to the public until fairly recently due to the fear of the illness’ extremely negative stigma. Rightfully so since schizophrenia is one of those very, very misunderstood mental conditions. Many people automatically go to slasher-films or psychological thrillers which feature (misrepresented) characters with disorders alluding to schizophrenia. Indeed, my idea of the typical person with schizophrenia’s life comes from two sources: my grandma’s adult daycare business and the 2009 movie, The Soloist. In The Soloist, for instance, a man with schizophrenia drops out of Julliard after a series of psychotic episodes and is left to roam the streets until a journalist discovers his talent and tries—rather unsuccessfully—to get him back on track. This paints people with schizophrenia in a very helpless light, as if they had little willpower or choice to do much of anything and were instead completely consumed by their psychosis. My concept of this certainly wasn’t aided by spending part of my childhood around my grandma’s daycare business. The idea behind it is families send their mentally incapacitated adult sons or daughters there whenever they need a break for the day. It’s a beneficial thing for both parties, but it unfortunately means my perception of those with chronic schizophrenia was skewed since we typically only received those with severe, untreatable psychosis. This TED Talk really helped open my eyes. What an incredible woman.



Elyn Saks. (2016, January 29). Retrieved May 12, 2016, from

Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness – from the inside [Video file]. (2012, June). Retrieved May 12, 2016, from


Intelligence’s Influences in the Classroom

Although we often think of intelligence as an inherited characteristic only nurtured by schooling, evidence supports the idea of societal and environmental expectations play a larger role than most believe.

The first video we watched was footage of the classic blue-eyes vs. brown-eyes study conducted by Jane Elliott in her third grade classroom, a lesson invented to teach a homogenous group of children about discrimination.  In it, she segregated the students based on their eye color and gave the blue eyed groups a higher value. The brown eyed students protested, of course, and continued to as Elliott set more rules such as “brown eyed students and blue eyed students cannot play together.” At recess, the blue eyed students began to assert their perceived dominance, taunting the other group with undue aggression. This resulted in a fight between two or three of the boys after which the blue eyed boy guessed calling the other a “brown eye” equated to when you call a black man a “n*****”. I found this extremely poignant because it meant Elliott’s lesson had been successful in its aim.

The most interesting point to me, however, was when the rules were reversed to favor the brown eyed students. Rather than treat the blue eyed students with compassion because they’d just been in the same position and judged it unfair, the brown eyed children abused their power just as much. To social psychologists, this is alarming because it says something about our human nature whenever it is left unrestrained. It actually reminds me of recent events regarding the Black Lives Matter movement which began as a peaceful protest group but now has gained errant followers who use physical violence (racism) in response to the very thing they fight against (racism). This sort of irony is ingrained in us, apparently.

The second video death with the phenomena where a person feels threatened by an imposed stereotype and (even unconsciously) fulfills it in order to resist going against the norm. Despite the example in the video being a comparison of the words “athletic” and “strategic” as applied to black and white athletes’ rankings, I think I’ve been affected by stereotype threat myself. In elementary school, for instance, it’s very common to think boys are good at math and girls are good at English. In my class, this proved true. Most of the math whizzes were boys while girls dominated the reading competitions. I wonder if unconsciously one of the reasons I didn’t feel a need to practice my math skills at a young age was because of this self-fuffilled stereotype.

The last video centered around the Pygmalion effect. In Rosenthal and Jacobson’s study they randomly labeled a few kids in a class “late bloomers” after administering a standardized test. This caused the teachers to hold the “late bloomers” to a higher standard due to their future prospects. As a result, these kids made incredible academic progress in comparison to the rest of their class. The researchers determined four factors contributing to this effect:

  1. a warmer climate between student and teacher
  2. a higher information input on the teachers part
  3. an increased opportunities for response
  4. an increased standard for that feedback

I relate all too well to the Pygmalion effect.

In elementary and middle school, standardized testing proved I was “intelligent,” so throughout my education I received special attention. I was always called on in class; I was always praised for my correct answers and constructively critiqued for my wrong ones; I was always greeted with a warm smile and chipper voice; I even received additional resources when I asked a question. In hindsight, it’s very strange to consider maybe I’m not all that more naturally intelligent than anyone else as I had thought in grade school. Maybe I was just provided more environmental stimuli which facilitated a higher knowledge base than my peers.

Due to these videos, I’d say some reforms should probably be considered in the educational system. For one, stereotypes held by students (and teachers) should be neutralized to eliminate stereotype fear. Second, all students should be given the same base level of enrichment and equal opportunities to be encouraged and critiqued. Students should have to take initiative and ask for the additional information to foster an individualized thirst for knowledge.



Jane Elliott Brown Eyes vs Blue Eyes [Video file]. (2012, November 20). Retrieved May 12, 2016, from

Stereotype Threat – social psychology in action [Video file]. (2009, September 28). Retrieved May 12, 2016, from

The Pygmalion Effect and the Power of Positive Expectations [Video file]. (2011, September 25). Retrieved May 12, 2016, from

To Stress or Not to Stress

If you surveyed a room full of Americans, basically no one would say stress is good. Quite the contrary, ever piece of literature aimed at the population promising a better quality of life says to avoid stress at all costs because of its association with a host of physical ailments like migraines, acid reflux, high blood pressure, and often fatal heart attacks. (Not to mention it’s just a pain to deal with on an emotional level.) The U.S.’s ironic hatred of stress is so ingrained in our society it even infiltrates our idioms. For example:

“Don’t stress it.”

“Don’t stress. Just do your best!”

So what if new research said it’s not stress which is unhealthy but the belief of stress being unhealthy is what’s… well, unhealthy? In fact, what if stress turned out to actually be healthy? Kelly McGonigal speaks about this in her TED Talk, citing several studies claiming just so.

She first discusses statistics from a study which surveyed a population on two questions. First, how much stress the individual had been under in the past year. Second, whether or not he or she believed stress was a bad thing. After a few years, the researchers returned and tallied which categories had the most premature deaths. As expected by most, 43% of those who reported having a high amount of stress died; however, the none of the 43% said they thought stress was good. On the same tangent, this means approximately 182 000 people each year die from not stress itself but from the belief that stress is bad.

These conclusions are supported by another study McGonigal brings up in which two groups were formed. One group was briefed about the biological benefits of stress–for instance, the increased blood flow and oxygen make responding to stimuli easier–and the other was not. Those left in the dark about stress’ function did worse on stress tests than those who were informed, displaying some psychological component is in play. Additionally, those who were not informed had inflated blood vessels. Over time, these blood vessels pose a danger for heart problems. The blood vessels of the informed group, however, showed the same characteristics as when a person is happy or feeling particularly courageous. Again, this ties the biological component back into the psychological one.

The last point McGonigal brings up is how our body stress response not only produce adrenaline and cortisol but also releases oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurohormone (so glad I discovered it’s a word!) which increases our social instincts. It causes you to get cozy with others, both emotionally and physically, which should hypothetically result in an exchange of feelings. It’s when you vent to a good friend, for instance.

Oxytocin also results in increased empathy, or compassion. On the same note, those who reported more altruistic activity, meaning more oxytocin, were less likely to suffer premature death or other stress induced illnesses than those who didn’t. This could be because oxytocin also has anti-inflammatory properties which negate the parts of the stress reflex which damage the cardiovascular system. From an evolutionary perspective, I could see this being a beneficial attribute since altruism is key in maintaining a healthy social order. It’s also maybe responsible for why people who suffer through rough situations like natural disaster or war emerge with a close-knit sense of solidarity.

I see all of this as being reasonable because of the above; however, I haven’t actually read any of the research, so I suppose there’s always room for misinterpretation.

As for trusting the speaker, McGonical is a renowned life psychologist who has penned many books on mindful living, received her Ph.D. from Stanford, and is a reference for a large percent of the nation’s news media. I’d trust her to give an accurate presentation.

All this being said, I can take some tips from her since–I’ll be the first to say it–I’m awful at mindful living. For one, whenever I encounter a stressful situation, I should remind myself of this video. Knowing stress has a purpose is comforting to some degree psychologically and physically.  \

Honestly, this was one of my favorite assignments!


Griffin, R. M., & Goldberg, J., MD. (n.d.). 10 Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend [Video file]. (2013, June). Retrieved May 12, 2016, from

You Are Not Special

“You are not special,” David McCullough Jr. said in a commencement speak given for Wellesey High School’s 2012 graduation. He continues to counter the modern culture of commending children and adolescents for accomplishing what he considers to be goals dwarfed by the earth’s population and overarching span of our lives. To some, this may seem a caustic speech to give graduating seniors about to go off to college and challenge the world; however, to me, this is a striking image which I whole heartedly enjoy. His thesis, once you get down to it, is how we should always seize our opportunities as they present themselves because the “pursuit” in “pursuit of happiness” means action, and no one became remarkable for lazing about.

Still, one might question how this plays in the minds of the young adults he’s speaking to. Is it too harsh? I would say no. For one, adolescents enter a phenomena called adolescent egocentrism, defined as the state of believing the world is centered on their actions and how they go about their actions.  It is also called the personal fable, which gives it a sort of mythologic feel in the sense that these adolescents are making themselves out to be a Hercules. McCullough seeks to pull this out from under the feet of the graduate and instead urges them to seek their identity in the world, mirroring Erikson’s Stages of Psychological Development.

How to Teach Myself

The first test I took was the Felder & Solomon Learning Styles Scale. It placed you on a number line, and the more polarized you are, the stronger your leaning towards the learning style is. I scored pretty evenly throughout, only showing a mild/moderate preference on a few occasions.

For instance, when it comes to reflective or active learning, I am ambivalent. If you tell me to solve a problem, I am apt to talk out loud about it for a while and then rush to solving it. I am not a quiet thinker as reflective learners tend to be. I also rarely go into situations prematurely; if anything, I’ll be late in the game because I took too much time planning. I’m okay with group work, however. To cater to this learning style, the website suggests write summaries while I study and teach other students the lesson afterwards. From personal experience, these both work pretty well.

I scored slightly higher on sensing. This one’s fairly accurate. I do dislike complications in problem solving and prefer to have a tried and true method of producing an answer. I’m pretty decent at lab work, and I prefer learning things which are applicable to the real world. Sensing doesn’t fit me, however, since I’m a messy worker despite my outlining. The website suggests I study more efficiently by connecting and applying the materialI have gone over.

Similarly, I am slightly more visual. Generally speaking, I agree. As an artist, it does help me if I stimulate myself with pictures and illustrations, but charts do little in the ways of assisting me. I would rather read the results of data. It suggests I use concept maps (I do), color coding (I do), and seek out additional illustrations to aide in explaining. Sometimes I’ll make a comic out my study material, which helps tons whenever I find the time.

In the last category, I scored as a global learner. This means I should understand the big picture before the specifics, but it is usually the opposite for me. Hm. I do have trouble processing how I arrived at the end of a problem though. The study tips do seem to apply to me because it suggests  my tried and true methods of skimming a chapter before lecture and asking an instructor to provide connections.

I liked the simplicity of this test. It offered two different choices without narrowing the situationally applicable options.

The next test was the Learning Style Inventory. It labeled be a tactile learner. I like this term better than the other one, kinetic, because I’m a feeler not a builder. I consider it pretty accurate because I’m always fighting in some way or another. The website suggested I try tracing words with my finger, an interesting concept, but it seems pretty elementary school. I do rewrite my notes sometimes, however, and it helps me heaps. Keeping a piece of scratch paper with me is an old habit I’ve abandoned, but maybe I should start it back up.

This test seems less comprehensive than the last despite there being more options. Additionally, there’s less room for error if you’re only sticking a label on one attribute of a person rather than four.

As for how Austin College caters to my learning style, I’d say it fits the bill fairly well. A lot of these learning habits are better applied solo, I think. If I had any complaints, it’d be pictures since visual accompaniments in power points are not only aesthetically pleasing but help some of us remember the words around it.

Reaping What You Sow

There’s a commonly held belief of yawning being contagious. This served as the observation for a MythBusters MiniMyth , in which the team seeks out the answer to this old wive’s tale through scientific research; however, is it credible?

First off, they failed to develop a hypothesis–an essential component to any experiment because it offers the foundation for the actual gathering of data. After all, how are you supposed to test something you have no guess to? I get they were going forward with an open mind (probably because of the show’s formatting), but it would have been much better to simply say “We think this will happen.” Hence, there would be something to confirm or deny.

The actual body of the experiment, on the other hand, was well done. An independent variable (the yawn stimulus or “seeded yawn” planted by Kari) and a dependent variable (the number of yawns resulting) were established. After, a trailer with three waiting rooms was built, offering a sterile environment to rule out any outside influences. This worked towards isolating the variables so the team could more confidently discount any other possible reasons for a yawn or lack of. Rooms 1 and 2 served as the experimental group and were exposed to the yawn stimulus before entering the room whereas Room 3 was unseeded and served as the control group. An experimental group is the participant population in which the independent variable is introduced. By contrast, the control group is the participant population where the independent variable is excluded. A hidden video camera was set up in each room with Tori monitoring and keeping count of each person’s yawn. This was recorded alongside their room number and later analyzed to find the percentage of individuals who yawned without the stimulus introduced and with the stimulus introduced. The findings tallied up to be 25% yawned without the seeding yawn, and 29% with the seeded yawn, revealing a 4% difference. Conclusively, it was decided this percentage meant yawning is contagious, and the myth was labeled “Confirmed.”

This provides me with two additional issues to discuss.

For starters, the selection of participants was not random because the participants all were found from an online add calling for extras. Although they did not state the purpose of their work, it narrows the potential data pool to actors only, threatening the integrity of the experiment due to a potential sampling bias. Sampling biases can lead to skewed data, hindering the accuracy of the results.

Second, the MythBusters were too quick to confirm yawns being contagious. Experiments cannot confirm anything, only provide additional information to support or deny a hypothesis. The closest one comes to a fact in science is a law, which still leaves room for error, and includes things as omnipresent as gravity. Additionally, their experiment would have to be tested repeatedly and garner the same results at a significant level. Assumptions in science can lead to assumptions in the general population because, if this experiment and its researchers say it’s true, then it must be. While yawning being contagious isn’t necessarily dangerous, the idea still comes across: as a precaution, ever experiment’s results should be issued with a limitations section. Just in case.


The typical format of shows like My Strange Addiction, Hoarding: Buried Alive, and Intervention include the introduction of a mentally ill person with a problem. After a reveal of how dire their need for help is–because usually a relationship is on the line–a specialist is brought in to address the individual, and the audience is left to watch the drama unfold.

Who yells at who? Who breaks down first? Will they ultimately change? Will they not?

As a kid, my mom ate this stuff up. I’d occasionally watch them with her on humdrum Saturday mornings, lounging around with a grilled cheese and TLC’s tag lines playing in the background. I never really liked them, however. They made me feel funny on the inside and a little more than guilty for peeping in on something I thought should be private.

The assigned video made me remember why I wasn’t fond: everything, even the altruism displayed, felt either insulting or artificial.

For instance, the video follows the aforementioned format. A man struggles with his hoarding addiction. He has a girlfriend who’s naturally dissatisfied and is considering leaving him despite still feeling attached. A behavioral therapist and a professional organizer are brought in to help solve the “problem,” camera crew in tow. Little progress is made in six weeks when he halts the cleaning up process. To me, this enforces the negative stereotype of the mentally ill being stubbornly “unfixable” (as if it were their fault) even when the resources to “get better” are made plainly available. It’s not that simple. Emerging from a mental illness, especially one as long-held as this man’s compulsive hoarding, is a back and forth system full of advances and setbacks over years which a television show can’t possibly capture. Another thing television shows can’t possibly capture is the emotion behind the mental illness. Despite one or two vignettes where the individual recounts the trauma rooting a disorder or venting about how difficult life is in their shoes, only superficial attention is given to their torment. It doesn’t show the sleepless nights of pacing back and forth, listening to little voices in the back of your head, or anything past what’s necessary to evoke pathos in the audience. Such a simplification is frustrating, creating the same two dimensional figureheads of mental illness created by a poorly done horror film’s “psychopath.”

Second, the visual styling of the show made me queasy. Conducted in the same format as reality television about rich families, Hoarding: Buried Alive once more downplays the severity of these mental disorders. To no fault of the audience, we’re led to view these people as nothing more than intriguing cases for our pleasure, entertainment. The handheld camera zooming in, the intermittent interviews, the background music, and advertising all evoke memories of Keeping Up with the Kardashians  or–even worse–since it equates making over someone’s house to making over someone’s mind–Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. (Click the links for examples.) It’s grossly corporate for something which should be honestly portrayed as a call for awareness.

The most perturbing thing, however, was the advertising used in the video. For instance, blurbs would pop up over its course–Twitter posts made by someone I assume is part of the production team. They end with “#Hoarders.” While this is a reference to the show’s name, the concept of someone using a word associated with legitimately mentally ill people in the same way as “#fashion” or “#like4like” horrifies me on a personal level. Can you imagine a depressed person flicking through the internet for relatable content and instead coming across a post advertising a show on TLC with the hashtag “#depressed”?  Additionally, the My Strange Addiction webpage baits audiences with the headline “You Won’t Believe How Strange These Addictions Are.” While I admit it’s a part of our inherit psychology to be fascinated by The Weird, it doesn’t mean we should go ahead and exploit living, breathing people with such a sterile glove.

Basically, I’m saying is if you want to see something strange, go ahead and take a tour of Ripley’s because–believe it or not–mental illness isn’t entertainment.



Inside Hoarding: Cleaning Up For Love | Hoarding: Buried Alive [Video file]. (2014, March 6). Retrieved May 7, 2016, from
KUWTK | Rob Re-Gifts Kendall’s Present to Blac Chyna | E! [Video file]. (2016, April 26). Retrieved May 7, 2016, from
Log Beams for Dining Room Remodel on Extreme Makeover [Video file]. (2011, March 12). Retrieved May 7, 2016, from

Schizophrenia Simulation

Schizophrenia is a mental illness causing a set of negative, positive, and cognitive symptoms; however, the hallmark characteristics the disorder calls to mind are the positive symptoms, hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations involve the introduction of non-real elements into a person’s perception of reality. These can occur in all the different senses. Some, for instance, will smell strange odors or feel bugs crawling on their skin–though the most common hallucinations are auditory and visual. Delusions, on the other hand, are false beliefs a person is convinced are certainly true. With schizophrenia, these are typically preposterous and paranoid. Many schizophrenics believe the government is out to persecute them.

Since these symptoms appear in media, we often have preconceived ideas about what constitutes a schizophrenics mind. Graduate student Alexandra Logan refers to thriller movies such as Black Swan, Shutter Island, and Friday the 13th, saying these movies support negative stereotypes like “people with mental illness are violent, unpredictable, untreatable and… evil.” While I can’t say I personally have this point of view, I can say I love thriller movies and sadly have rarely considered this harmful perspective.

Through watching a video  attempting to accurately portray the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, I sought to gain a new understanding of how a schizophrenic individual might see the world during a psychotic episode. The scene opens with a regular, domestic day bathed in tranquility. Then, steadily, voices begin to creep into the audio. They call me worthless and lazy, taunting and telling me I’d be better off dead or how to never trust anyone, even the pizza delivery boy at the door. Food is poison. Medication is poison. The weather is out to get me. After a while, an eerie sensation begins to sneak up o me, and I realize how difficult it would be to disobey these voices because of how sure, how commanding they are. As we learned in previous units, humans are hardwired to go along with an authority figure’s commands even if we believe them to be morally reprehensible as demonstrated by the Milgram experiment in which an incredibly high percentage of adults “electrocuted” a (thankfully nonexistent) opponent on the command of a researcher. This video reminds me not only would I be pressured into doing the same, but how frustrating a life lived like this would be. If you ignored the voices, you’d get in trouble as perceived by your reality. If you listened to them, you’d consider yourself a monster.

How overwhelming. I understand the high suicide rates associated with schizophrenia on a first hand basis now.

Additionally, the video caused me to consider how difficult social situations would be when your sense of reality is so shaky. Never knowing when a person’s actions are a hallucination or due to a delusion would make it almost impossible to trust anyone. I was also alarmed by the lack of safe space to retreat to. During a psychotic episode, nowhere is safe, not even when you close your eyes.


Delusions. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2016, from
Logan, A. (2014, December 11). Schizophrenia in the Media Vs. Real Life. Retrieved May 7, 2016, from
Types of Schizophrenia – A day in the life of (Scary) Luke Murphy [Video file]. (2011, July 21). Retrieved May 7, 2016, from

Making a Murderer: Evolution at Its Finest?

Some months ago, a blog prompt caught my interest. Jim Fallon’s TED Talk considers a little contemplated notion: what if there were a gene connecting serial killers to their crimes? As it turns out, there just might be.

The MAOA gene is responsible for producing monoamine oxidase A, an enzyme which degrades neurotransmitters in the brain such as norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine. These are crucial to regulating our moods and their subsequent actions. MAOA genes come in five “flavors,” or differing levels of activity; however, for my purpose, it’ll be simplified into either “high” or “low” rates of enzymatic activity, denoted by the suffix “-H” and “-L.”

A handful of research studies have shown a correlation between the presence of MAOA-L and rash, aggressive behavior–probably due to lower concentrations of MAOA resulting in a surplus of the aforementioned neurotransmitters since there’s less enzyme to decay them.

For example, a study conducted by Brown University linked MAOA-L to higher rates of aggressive behavior in response to an irritating stimulus. The study involved 78 college age males who completed a task, received payment, and had a certain amount of money subtracted from their account by an unseen opponent. The participants could then choose to punish their opponent by making them eat hot sauce. Students possessing MAOA-L were more likely to exact their revenge than those coded for MAOA-H, especially when large amounts of money were taken. Researchers posit this demonstrates a linkage between our genetic and evolutionary history, citing “altruistic punishment”–the evolutionary psychology theory stating some of us evolved to punish deviant members of our social groups for the benefit of the larger sum.

Evolution appears once more in a study summarizing the occurrence of MAOA-L genes in different ethnic populations. Interestingly, MAOA-L appears to be more common in populations with a history of warfare. For instance, 56% of Maori men possess the gene. The Maori are a people who in the past fought amongst one another in competition for the Polynesian islands’ limited natural resources. Consequentially, it makes sense a high percentage of successful lineages would bear the genes which made their ancestors victorious in war. Due to this, the MAOA gene is often dubbed the “warrior gene.” Still, it’s important to regard the other numbers recounted. The MAOA-L gene is common to 34% of European men, 56% of Chinese men, 58% of African American men, and 61% of Taiwanese men.

I’d be interested in knowing the percentages of African men to determine whether or not the frequency in African Americans is because of pressures in the U.S., if the trait is older, or if it’s a combination of the two. Additionally, I’d love to research the history of these ethnicities to determine whether high percentages coincide with historical events or not since another source claims the gene to be prevalent in 1/3 of the “Western world” and 2/3 in less developed regions. Although genotypic changes probably take multiple generations to stabilize, I doubt it’s a linear trend.

Now, does all of this mean the mere possession of the MAOA gene outright determines a person will become a murdering machine? Well, for one, despite the gene being relatively common in the population 30-50% of us don’t commit violent crime. This brings us back to Jim Fallon’s TED Talk and his claim of environment having a great influence on the individual a la epigenetics. Alondra Oubre’s article agrees, saying child abuse during the ages of 1-5 years of age especially increase the risk of a MAOA-L gene carrier developing antisocial characteristics which could lead to violent crime. Moreover, a Finnish study recounted by Dr. Emily Deans for Psychology Today brings up it may not be the MAOA-L gene alone causing individuals to be violent. Instead, it’s proposed a combination of high risk genes plus environmental influences  lead to violence. The study examined prison inmates who had committed over ten “seriously violent crimes,” finding a 13.45 odds ratio between low activity MAOA genes and the CDH13 gene, a gene responsible for producing an adhesive protein in the brain. It’s also linked to alcoholism, strengthening the connection between alcoholism and violent behavior.

I’d be curious to know whether or not these factors were more common back when the warrior gene presented a definite advantage to our survival and if practically everyone with dormant violent tendencies would demonstrate them.

All in all, I found this an incredibly cool topic to research. It reawakened my love for our evolutionary history as a species from a biological, anthropological, and psychological perspective and the interaction between all these aspects is something I’d love to explore more.



Baum, D. (2009, January 19). Punishment by Hot Sauce “Warrior Gene” Predicts Aggressive Behavior After Provocation. Retrieved May 5, 2016, from

Deans, E., Dr. (2014, October 30). A Gene for Violence? Retrieved May 5, 2016, from 

Jim Fallon: Exploring the mind of a killer [Video file]. (2009, February). Retrieved May 5, 2016, from

Oubre, A. (2014, July 31). The Extreme Warrior gene: A reality check. Retrieved May 5, 2016, from


Psychology in the Media

My Rewrite

A recent research study revealed despite smoking’s popularity drastically decreasing over the last half decade, the proportion of nicotine addicts exhibiting “externalized” psychologic disorders has done the opposite.

Over 25 000 individuals participated in the study, selected from the National Epidemiological Survey for Alcohol and Related conditions (NESARC) on the terms they had neither been institutionalized or served in the military. From there, researchers divided the individuals into five “birth cohorts”–survey year subtracted from subject’s age–further subdividing them into three different smoking categories: non-smokers, never-dependent smokers, and ever-dependent smokers. (Ever-depedent smokers refer to individuals suffering from nicotine addiction in accordance with the DSM-IV’s criteria.)  Additionally, six mental illnesses were included in the survey. The screenings, performed by the AUSADUS-IV, included major depressive, alcohol-use, drug-use, attention-deficit/hyperactivity, bipolar, and antisocial personality disorder.

Analysis of the data revealed ever-dependent smokers from more recently born birth cohorts had higher rates of all mental illnesses except depression. For instance, ADHD saw a 0.75% increase per decade while bipolar and antisocial personality disorders grew 1.5%, and drug/alcohol-use disorders coincided. Depression rates were not affected.

What could it be?

For one, nicotine is a stimulant. It increases cognitive function and temporarily reduces anxiety. These affects are appealing to those suffering from an otherwise untreated mental disorder, and a fixation with cigarettes offers a form of self-medication. Researchers hypothesize that as society’s attitudes towards smoking began to wean out casual smokers in the 1960’s, those self-medicating individuals overtook the majority. This is supported by the fact that never-dependent smokers showed the same rate of mental illness as non-smokers.

Nevertheless, researchers made it clear the conundrum is extremely multifaceted with a host of other contributing factors. Additionally, it’s possible older smokers may not be accurately reporting their past smoking habits, or that older mentally ill smokers passed away before the surveys were taken. Both of these would result in an underreporting of mental illness rates for earlier birth cohorts, effectively skewing the data.

Despite this, researchers possess confidence in their explanation, proposing smoking should be considered an early indicator of undiagnosed mental illnesses.



Journalism Reflection

This was honestly one of the hardest blogs for me to write because of the word limit–a meager 341 words. I’m naturally a very verbose person at fault for literary styling which doesn’t always mesh well with scientific reporting. In addition, I’m also a very thorough writer. It pained me to have to leave out what I’d consider essential information such as how the other limitations and clarifications confirming while oversampling did occur in the original data collection, it was adjusted for in the analysis. I also chose to leave out the genetic component to the article because it didn’t flow well in what little space I had. Instead, like the news article, it caused my writing to become more confusing than informative. Pity, since I found it a really interesting part and quite telling of the sensationalist way media handles findings. (The news article made it seem a much larger contribution than it statistically is.) Another interesting realization of mine is how difficult an unbiased conclusion is to write. I felt as though I was compelled to include some moral Aesop at the end about the evils of smoking when doing so would’ve resulted in an unnecessary social slant.

Regardless, the exercise told a lot about how difficult this truly is. I have more sympathy for the journalists now.




Pop Culture Article:

Research Article: