Up until recently, the fields of genetics and psychology had been largely independent of each other, tackling many of the same problems, but focusing on different dynamics that contribute to them. However, as the gap between scientific disciplines becomes less pronounced, this could eventually change.
A new paper published online ahead of print in the journal Molecular Psychiatry suggests that the same clumps of genes that predispose us to depression might also promote well-being – an idea that could only be tested through collaborative efforts by geneticists and psychologists.
Arguing for a cross-disciplinary approach, the research duo – Professors Elaine Fox from Oxford University and Cristopher Beevers from the University of Texas – write that although “both cognitive and genetic research has identified potential markers of psychopathology, samples sizes are typically small, studies usually investigate only a single bias (primarily AB) or single-genetic variant (for example, 5-HTTLPR), and environmental variation has typically not been considered”.
Having sifted through dozens of relevant papers, the team suggests that networks of genes that make people more sensitive to the environment could lead to the adoption of different cognitive biases, also known as “mental filters”, which depends on whether that environment is positive or negative.
“If you have those genes and are in a negative environment, you are likely to develop the negative cognitive biases that lead to mental disorders. If you have those genes but are in a supportive environment, you are likely to develop positive cognitive biases that increase your mental resilience,” explained Fox.
To keep this line of inquiry going, Professor Fox is currently working on her new research project (called “CogBIAS”) in a programme of work funded by the European Research Council.
The new combined effort is expected to bring about better understanding of how mental illness takes root, and devise more effective, individualised treatment modalities to fight them.