Many people are haunted by their ancestry, and, like Mrs. L., live in lifelong fear, wondering whether a mental breakdown lurks in ambush. We know of no psychiatric Jeane Dixon. Scientific expertise is noticeably imprecise when it comes to defining those predictive factors that lead to mental illness.
Authorities who find early childhood influences an unsatisfactory explanation often focus instead on heredity. Researchers dedicated to discovering genetic determinants for mental illness have enjoyed some success through studies on twins in compiling statistics which appear to indicate genetic influence as a primary factor.
Since children do look like their parents and often mimic their idiosyncracies in a subtle way, it would be foolhardy to dismiss completely the possibility that genetic determinants are at work.
It is equally foolhardy, however, to place undue emphasis on genetics, since heredity and environment interact. The overlay of environment on heredity can often distort data which seemingly support the “inherited illness” theory.
Genetic theories are popular with the public; they offer people a convenient “out” for their problems. For example, overweight people frequently excuse themselves by saying, ‘1 cant help being fat. My grandfather was fat, my mother is fat, my father is fat. It runs in our family.”
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