It's a bit counter-intuitive to think the vocal and motor tics associated with Tourette's syndrome could be a blessing. But neuroscience buff Jonah Lehrer makes that very case in his recent post The Advantages of Tourette's. Though Lehrer doesn't have Tourette's, he had a severe stutter in his youth and argues that overcoming such obstacles has an empowering effect.
"For me, the lesson of stuttering is that obstacles can also be advantages, that who we become is deeply influenced by what we cannot do," Lehrer writes. "The secret is to struggle through, because the very act of raging against a disadvantage generates its own set of skills."
Apparently, the same is true for individuals diagnosed with Tourette's:
The constant attempt to suppress these tics relies on the activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area closely associated with self-control, working memory and motor regulation. Interestingly, this chronic struggle leads to enhanced cognitive control, at least on certain tasks. Consider a 2006 study led researchers at the University of Nottingham. The experiment involved a challenging eye-movement task, in which subjects were forced to actively inhibit automatic eye movements. Here's where the results get strange: individuals with Tourette's made significantly fewer error responses than their "neurologically normal" peers, without a decrease in speed. The scientists speculate that this result "likely reflects a compensatory change in Tourette individuals whereby the chronic suppression of tics results in a generalized suppression of reflexive behavior in favor of increased cognitive control." In other words, the struggle makes us stronger.
Lehrer delves into the subject now because of a newly published study that also speaks to the benefits of Tourette's.
[Hat tip: The Morning News]
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.