Evo-psychiatry

Brain Ethics has just picked up on the recent development of “evolutionary psychiatry” (evo-psychiatry for short) that aims to understand mental disorder in terms of how we have evolved to become susceptible to disabling thought and behaviour patterns.

Evolutionary approaches to disease – including mental disease – is an attempt to describe and explain the design characteristics that make us susceptible to the disease (from Nesse & Williams, 1996). The evolutionary trajectories of humans is far from a travel towards perfection. We are full of errors and somatic and mental shortcomings – and the appendix, near-sightedness, and a bottleneck attentional system and the like are examples of this.

Another important issue is that the border between normal and abnormal psychology is becoming increasingly muddled. That may sound as a problem, but it’s actually caused by a change in our understanding of how our minds come to be, and especially how normal variation extends into pathological domains. In this sense, it’s hard to draw waterproof boundaries between normal and abnormal psychology. We work on a continuum, and the branch of modern evolutionary psychiatry makes a good case for such an approach.

The post discusses a recent special issue of the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry (snappy title!) that discusses the various approaches in the field, and how they could help better understand mental illness.

Link to Brain Ethics on evo-psychiatry.

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