What does Sherlock Holmes do that’s so extraordinary? He makes an astounding number of observations in a short time, pieces seemingly insignificant parts together, and recalls details with painstaking precision. He would also be diagnosed with Low Latent Inhibition.
“Latent Inhibition” dates back to Lubow and Moore (1959) in context of classical conditioning and the growth of psychology as a field of study. It refers to how the brain can block out or ignore seemingly ordinary things in favor of unusual ones. For instance, one easily notes a pool of blood on the ground next to a bloody knife, but an open jar on the counter or half-eaten banana are more difficult to “see” immediately. Sound familiar? These are precisely the subtle details Holmes makes great use of.
Fans of Prison Break might recognize the following description from Michael Scofield’s psychiatrist:
People who suffer from low latent inhibition see everyday things like your or I do…but where we just process the image…they process everything. Their brains are more open to incoming stimuli and the surrounding environment. Other people’s brains, yours and mine, shut out the same information. We have to do it in order to keep our sanity. If someone with a low IQ has low latent inhibition, it almost always results in mental illness. But, if someone has a high IQ, it almost always results in creative genius.
Those with Amazon Prime can watch the relevant episode here.
Research with schizophrenia patients and animals suggest that the physiological basis for attention might also be responsible for latent inhibition. It’s known that dopamine agonists, like Adderall or other amphetamines, reduce latent inhibition whereas dopamine antagonists enhance it. It’s noteworthy that some dopamine agonists are thought to enhance focus and studying, hence the use of ADHD medication like dextroamphetamine as a study and test taking aid. Dopamine antagonists are used as anti-psychotic meds.
Researchers postulate LI evolved as a part of the stimuli screening processes that govern selective attention. Dysfunctional processes are observed in schizophrenia patients. Low LI is found to be associated with dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and glutamate.