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You are what you experience


A new study from Virginia Commonwealth University seems to state the obvious: our mental health is based on an accumulation of our life experiences. But in a world where we hear more and more about genetic predispositions, perhaps the importance of experience needs to be reiterated. Especially since experiences through our youth may mold us significantly and permanently once we hit middle age.

“In this time of emphasis on genes for this and that trait, it is important to remember that our environmental experiences also make important contributions to who we are as people,” said Kenneth Kendler, MD, director of the VCU Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics.

“When I was growing up, in talking about the importance of a good diet, we used to say â€?You are what you eat.’ What this study shows is that to a substantial degree, â€?you are what you have experienced.’ That is, your life history stays with you in impacting on your background book, for good or for ill,” he continued.

In order to study experience versus genes, the research enlisted identical twins for the study. Here they had not only a group with identical genetic make up, but divergent emotional experience once into adulthood. Participants relayed their experience with depression and anxiety during the five to six year study period.

As the twins grew from childhood to adult, they moved away from each other in their predicted levels of symptoms, but after that, stopped moving apart. They noted that environmental experiences contributed substantially to the stability of each twin’s life. And the lack of those experiences was a determiner to the levels of anxiety and depression they had in their mid-life. It appears that while there may be genetic predispositions to depression and anxiety, it is the life experience through childhood and early adulthood that creates the baseline for the rest of your life.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, VCU

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