When Social Signs Point to Brain Dysfunction

When Social Signs Point to Brain Dysfunction

In an article in The Wall Street Journal , Shirley S. Wang addressed “When Social Skills Are a Warning” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323398204578489542660099544.html?KEYWORDS=Brain+Disease). In this article, she points out that significant change in social behavior can be a foreshadowing of something going terribly wrong in the brain. The article reports that neurological dysfunction might onset after subtle changes in behavior related to the expression of empathy, sincerity, listening and the inability to identify sarcasm. These subtle changes may be warning signs of future more serious changes related to dementia.

This can really scare people. When they observe behavior that is not familiar, they can’t understand the change and seek answers about the behavior of those they know and love well. Fortunately or not, most of us don’t notice our own behaviors and the changes well. Although most of us do not notice changes in our own behavior, we do notice changes in other’s behavioral patterns. To identify changes in behavior with those around us is likely an evolutionary skill developed to aid us in survival. I tend to agree with the article’s general premise that small abrupt and unexplained differences in behavior of others changes are not normal and should be monitored over time to see if they are consistently presented. If they are, then deeper diagnostic consultation may be warranted.

For example, a person with the ISTZ profile, is the most uniform in role and behavior. They adapt the least. Abrupt changes in their behavior are very noticeable.

I experienced this first hand with my mother, an ISTZ. In her 50s, she started to experience periods of manic and depressive episodes. These periods were brought out by overexertion in social settings. The first time I noticed these changes was in 1979 when our family took the lead role in hosting and planning the first international association meeting for professionals interested in psychological type assessments like the MBTI and the Kiersey Temperament Sorter. My mother was so engaged that she over-extraverted to the point that she became mentally exhausted. Unlike typical exhaustion, she went into hyper mode. She socialized to the point of wearing herself down. After the conference at which the Association of Psychological Type was formed, it took her months to recover. As family members, we noted that her behavior was somewhat embarrassingly flamboyant, overly dramatic and self focused. This was very atypical of her normal ISTZ traditional and practical nature. Later in life she was diagnosed as manic/depressive and towards the end of her life experienced several severe, although brief, psychotic episodes that required hospitalizations.

As Wang’s article suggests, her early out-of-character behaviors foretold future brain dysfunctions. We assumed that my mother’s late life behavioral changes, broadly and inaccurately diagnosed as dementia, were more likely the result of small mini-strokes in the frontal lobes of the brain called Peck’s Disease. Interestingly, an autopsy of her brain showed neither Peck’s Disease or dementia. Something was going wrong inside her that medical science could not explain.

In the case reported by Wang, dysfunctions typically described as antisocial and related to the frontal lobe, are those that affect executive comportment related behaviors, as well as those associated with planning, organizing, social relations, and following social and cultural norms. These behaviors and the frontal lobe itself are developed last, particularly in boys. I know that because I have a 17-year-old son who isn’t crazy, but instead drives me crazy with his lack of developed frontal lobe activities. As they are developed last, following the logic of last developed- first lost, it would not be surprising to learn that signs of changes in behaviors governed by the frontal lobe, namely poor application of executive life comportment behaviors, would signal greater loss of functioning later in life.

As it relates back to the Golden, I conclude with the idea that the greatest value in the assessment itself is the building of consciousness about personality itself and the need to develop both your innate and your learned behaviors. The greater the development and the stronger all sides of the personality, the more sustainable your healthy behavior is, and the more durable one’s brain functioning is, as the natural effects of aging and decline take their toll. Without such insight into ourselves, we are just left to the natural and circumstantial events and course of existence.

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