Primary Memetic Syndromes: Eating Disorders, Factitious Disorders, Malingering, Meme-Directed Destructive Behaviors

  • Hoyle Leigh


The ability to process incoming memes rationally is an important task of human education, and the more able a person is in this capacity, the less likely is the person to be a victim of later infection by an epidemic meme. Nevertheless, there may be highly infectious memes that will infect even the most immunologically competent individuals. Endemic culture of violence in the ghettos is an example of an abundance of toxic memes in geographically segregated areas. Some conditions, such as eating disorders, may start as a mild meme infection, i.e., imitating others, but then may become a final common pathway syndrome in interaction with existing dormant memes (e.g., low self-esteem) and early gene × meme interaction. Once the syndrome develops, the physiologic effects such as of starvation may create or enhance psychiatric symptoms. Meme-induced pursuit of ideal body weight may trigger off an ancient adaptive gene-derived neurobiologic mechanism to deal with food scarcity. Memes in the environment may at times acquire overwhelming power and infect the brain massively and take over the meme-processing apparatus and co-opt it for their own replication. Such memes may sweep through a whole population in a frenzy, as in mobilizing for war, religious fanaticism, and mass hysteria. In less virulent form, the memes may simply gain epidemic proportions as fads. At the individual level, at times of stress, susceptible individuals may unconsciously adopt behaviors, emotions, or symptoms of others to whom they were exposed in earlier life. These may result in factitious symptoms or malingering. In the case of suicide, there is clear evidence of an infectious nature of the behavior on top of the often coexisting serious pathology such as depression and psychosis. Suicide can thus be considered to be a final common behavior pathway for various mental conditions, including depression, psychosis, neurotic distress, and situational distress. In a vulnerable individual, or at times of stress-induced vulnerability, suicide memes may take hold and proliferate, leading to the suicidal behavior. Suicide bombing is another example of memetic contagion. In memetically civilized societies, physical violence is often a manifestation of mental retardation, low intelligence, brain damage, or other physical conditions that reduce the effectiveness of the frontal lobes concerned with memetic control of behavior. Irrational beliefs and delusions may be shared memes within a subculture (e.g., religions, cults). Individuals with inadequate meme-processing abilities are likely to accept irrational and often anti-gene memes (e.g., sexual repression, denial of some forms of pleasure). Education geared to evaluate and process memes rationally, i.e., in a way compatible with the adaptive gene-driven requirements, is essential for primary prevention. Encouraging individuals to utilize critical thinking as opposed to blindly following what is fashionable or “group-think” may be sufficient in dealing with fads – in fashion, food, religion, or ideology. Eating disorders may require both gene- and meme-oriented therapies, including the use of avatars. For malignant memes such as suicide bombing, isolating the brain from sources of memes that support and sustain them, i.e., the pleasure connection, should reduce their reproductive power.


Anorexia Nervosa Eating Disorder Nucleus Accumbens Single Nucleotide Polymorphism Bulimia Nervosa 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA

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