Now that the election is over, all of our brains are free to consider a broad range of topics beyond electoral politics. Thank goodness, right? I was fascinated by a piece from yesterday's Science Times about an experimental and mostly, so far, untested theory of genetics. It posits that autism, schizophrenia, and most other psychiatric conditions are actually all the same disorder, just filtered through genes of different genders. I know this is strange and complicated, so I'll let Times writer Benedict Carey explain:
Their idea is, in broad outline, straightforward. Dr. Crespi and Dr. Badcock propose that an evolutionary tug of war between genes from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg can, in effect, tip brain development in one of two ways. A strong bias toward the father pushes a developing brain along the autistic spectrum, toward a fascination with objects, patterns, mechanical systems, at the expense of social development. A bias toward the mother moves the growing brain along what the researchers call the psychotic spectrum, toward hypersensitivity to mood, their own and others’. …
In short: autism and schizophrenia represent opposite ends of a spectrum that includes most, if not all, psychiatric and developmental brain disorders. The theory has no use for psychiatry’s many separate categories for disorders, and it would give genetic findings an entirely new dimension.
In part, this makes intuitive sense. Autism spectrum conditions, including Asperger's Syndrome, have often been described as encompassing "extreme male" behavior — at least in terms of our stereotypes about how men behave. Similarly, disorders such as anxiety and depression recall stereotypes of femininity. On the extreme end of that spectrum, psychosis and hysteria are conditions that, up through Freud's time, experts believed afflicted only women. Doctors (they were almost all male, of course) thought these diseases were derived from menstruation, ignoring the social factors throughout history that have contributed to women's increased levels of anxiety and depression.
Today, we thankfully understand that men and women suffer from all of these conditions, even if some of them are more prevalent in one gender than the other. It would be fascinating to learn that our parents' genes are locked in an existential struggle to assert themselves in us, not least because it seems to affirm a cultural narrative of war between the sexes. But I'm very cautious about untested genetic theories that seem to map so closely onto our stereotypes about gender. They are so satisfying, so affirming of our biases, that they ought to be treated with extra care and held to a high standard of proof.