College Majors and Their Psychiatric Disorders

Maybe all this does is lend support to a lot of stereotypes we tend to have about Humanities vs. Science types: Familial Linkage between Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Intellectual Interests argues “that shared genetic (and perhaps environmental) factors may both predispose for heritable neuropsychiatric disorders and influence the development of intellectual interests.” Based on a survey of Princeton’s incoming class of 2014, the paper establishes correspondences between the types of neuropsychiatric disorders people report in their families and the majors they intend to pursue. Specifically, “students interested in pursuing technical majors (science/mathematics/engineering) were significantly more likely to report a sibling with an autism spectrum disorder,” while “students interested in studying humanities were significantly more likely to report a family member with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, or substance abuse problems.” The results, in chart form (via):

What makes this seem (at least somewhat) more than just another case of science confirming what everyone already suspects is the focus on siblings and family members, so it’s not so much demonstrating that depressed people are interested in the humanities, but that people interested in the humanities tend to have more experience with depression in their lives. I was going to joke that maybe this will lead someone to invent something like a spectrum of melancholia, placing “Humanities major” at one end and “major depressive” at the other.  But the authors beat me to it: “affective disorders may represent an extreme phenotype of emotional lability that, in milder forms, is commensurate with interest in the humanities.” Science!

It would be interesting to see how well this correlation holds up as people progress through school and change or develop their interests. Are people who go on to pursue careers in these areas the same ones who note these interests when first entering school?

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