Magazine article Psychology Today

Bright Lights, Long Shadows

Magazine article Psychology Today

Bright Lights, Long Shadows

Article excerpt

"WHERE THERE IS much light, the shadow is deep," wrote Goethe, flagging a tension that plays out in all corners of nature, including within the human mind.

Information, like a bright light, also deepens our questions. Take cognitive trade-offs: A signature strength or ability may have a corresponding vulnerability, a mode of being that is double-edged.

Such trade-off's can play out in the mind of an individual: the so-called "mad genius" for whom divergent thinking and mental illness seem inextricably linked; the sensation-seeker for whom risk-taking leads to career success even as it wreaks havoc on interpersonal relationships.

The idea of cognitive trade-offs as drivers of behavior gains explanatory power when considered from the gene's-eye view, where outcomes play out across generations and populations. It is from this vantage point that we can ask why certain crippling psychiatric disorders persist, despite the fact that they convey no apparent upside to an individual. …

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