Let’s face it – most college kids think they have finally flown the nest and they are ready to test their wings of independence. But a new survey from researchers at Princeton University seems to indicate that dear old mom and dad (and even their siblings) may be influencing the, even after they’ve settled into the dorm. According to the survey and its implications, their interests are not as self-determined as they thought and their family may actually be genetically predetermining which college major they choose.
Princeton Survey Covers Old Territory From New Angle
The idea that family history, specifically your family’s psychiatric history, may influence your life and interests is not new to this study. Prior studies have looked into a person’s innate ability in the arts or sciences and any potential connection that may have to psychiatric family history. Those studies were a bit narrower in scope however, dealing with highly artistic individuals or people who had already exhibited aptitude within their chosen vocation.
This more recent survey broadened the playing field by looking at the link between family history and a person’s expressed intellectual interests (as opposed to chosen career paths). Interestingly, this survey yielded very similar results to the previous studies.
The Princeton study seems to suggest (it was not conclusive research) that the neuropsychiatric traits in a person’s family strongly influence a person’s intellectual interests completely independent of the person’s aptitude or career.
The survey team polled over 1,000 incoming Princeton freshmen in the class of 2014. The students were asked about which major they expected to declare based upon their interests. After listing this, the students were next asked to tell of any psychiatric issues within their immediate family (defined as: parent, grandparent or sibling) such as substance abuse, mood disorders or autism/Aspergers syndrome generally termed ASD.
Students with expressed interest in the Humanities were found to be twice as apt to have a family history of substance abuse or mood disorders while those who tended to have interests in technical or science majors were three times more likely to report having a sibling who suffered with ASD.
Those reviewing the survey results hasten to note that the study is neither exhaustive nor conclusive and yet agree that it does appear to highlight a linkage between heritable psychiatric conditions and a person’s expressed personal interests. Some see this recent survey as hailing back to Aristotle who famously quipped that those who show aptitude for philosophy and poetry also tend toward melancholia.
Critics point out that this survey tended to focus on people at the extremes; poets and artists at one end and scientists at the other. Most people, the critics say, live somewhere in between. A large number of us have an interest in these things but not sufficient to entice us to enter upon them as a profession.
It is still true that your personal interests stem from the experiences you’ve enjoyed in life. This research doesn’t deny that but instead says that there was a genetic stalk before the stem. In other words, there is a heritable factor to your interests which, while not deterministic, certainly sets your feet in a predetermined general direction. The Princeton University survey findings have been published in the PLoS ONE journal.