Degeneration theory

Degeneration theory is, at its heart, a way of thinking, and something that is taught, not innate. A major influence on the theory was Emil Kraepelin, lining up degeneration theory with his psychiatry practice. The central idea of this concept was that in “degenerative” illness, there is a steady decline in mental functioning and social adaptation from one generation to the other. For example, there might be an intergenerational development from nervous character to major depressive disorder, to overt psychotic illness and, finally, to severe and chronic cognitive impairment, something akin to dementia.[17] This theory was advanced decades before the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics and their application to medicine in general and to psychiatry in particular. Kraepelin and his colleagues mostly derived from degeneration theory broadly. He rarely made a specific references to the theory of degeneration, and his attitude towards degeneration theory was not straightforward. Positive, but more ambivalent. The concept of disease, especially chronic mental disease fit very well into this framework insofar these phenomena were regarded as signs of an evolution in the wrong direction, as a degenerative process which diverts from the usual path of nature.

However, he remained skeptical of over-simplistic versions of this concept: While commenting approvingly on the basic ideas of Cesare Lombroso’s “criminal anthropology,”[18] he did not accept the popular idea of overt “stigmata degenerations”, by which individual persons could be identified as being “degenerated” simply by their physical appearance. While Kraepelin and his colleagues may not have focused on this, it did not stop others from advancing the converse idea.

An early application of this theory was the Mental Deficiency Act Winston Churchill helped pass in 1913.[19] This entailed placing those deemed “idiots” into separate colonies, or anyone who showed sign of a “degeneration”. While this did apply to those with mental disorders of a psychiatric nature, the execution was not always in the same vein, as some of the language was used to the those “morally weak”, or deemed “idiots”. The belief in the existence of degeneration helped foster a sense that a sense of negative energy was inexplicable and was there to find sources of “rot” in society.[20] This forwarded the notion the idea that society was  structured in a way that produced regression, an outcome of the “darker side of progress”.

Those who had developed the label of “degenerate” as a means of qualifying difference in a negative manner could use the idea that this “darker side of progress” was inevitable by having the idea society could “rot”. Considerations to the pervasiveness an allegedly superior condition were, during the nineteenth century, frighteningly reinforced the language and habits of destructive thinking.[20]


By Félicien Rops – Hans Joachim Neyer (Hrsg.): Felicien Rops. 1833 – 1898. Katalog der Ausstellung im Wilhelm-Busch-Museum Hannover 17. Januar bis 21. März 1999. Hatje, Ostfildern 1999, ISBN 3-7757-0821-9, Abb. 11, Public Domain,

Hyperthymic temperament

Hyperthymic temperament, or hyperthymia, from Ancient Greek ὑπέρ (“over”, meaning here excessive) + θυμός (“spirited”), is a proposed personality type characterized by an exceptionally, or in some cases, abnormally positive mood and disposition. It is generally defined by increased energy, vividness and enthusiasm for life activities as opposed to dysthymia. Hyperthymia is similar to but more stable than hypomania with complete absence of irritability or negative mood effects.[1][2]

Other namesHyperthymic temperament, hyperthymic personality-type, chronic hypomania
Graph showing showing hyperthymia in comparasion to other bipolar spectrum disorders
SpecialtyPsychiatryclinical psychology -although its classification as a disorder is still disputed
SymptomsHigh self-esteem, high energy, decreased need for sleep, optimismimpulsivitytalkativenesshigh libido[3]
ComplicationsIncreased risk of bipolar disordersubstance abuse[4]
Usual onsetBefore 21 years old[5]
CausesGenetic, environmental, and psychological factors
Risk factorsUnknown, family history
Diagnostic methodBased on symptoms
TreatmentOften not needed, unless potential complications develop

Characteristics of the hyperthymic temperament include:[6]

  • increased energy and productivity
  • short sleep patterns
  • vividness, activity extroversion
  • self-assurance, self-confidence
  • strong will
  • extreme talkativeness
  • tendency to repeat oneself
  • risk-taking/sensation seeking
  • breaking social norms
  • very strong libido
  • love of attention
  • low threshold for boredom
  • generosity and tendency to overspend
  • emotion sensitivity
  • cheerfulness and joviality
  • unusual warmth
  • expansiveness
  • tirelessness
  • irrepressibility, irresistible, and infectious quality

The clinical, psychiatric understanding of hyperthymia is evolving. Studies have shown that hyperthymic temperament promotes efficient performance of complex tasks under time pressure or extreme conditions.[7] Despite this positive characterization, hyperthymia can be complicated with depressive episodes manifesting as a softer form of bipolar illness, such as cyclothymia.[8][9] Research also suggests a familial genetic connection of the temperament to bipolar I.[10]

Aside from references in historical and more recent writings on the spectrum of mood disorders, further literature on the temperament is lacking.[11][12] There is a lack of agreement on its definition, implications or whether it is pathological. It is not known where to place hyperthymia on the affective spectrum.

Hyperthymia manifesting intermittently or in an unusual way may mask hypomania or another psychiatric disorder. Hyperthymia can be most accurately diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist with the help of a patient’s family and/or close friends.

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