Brain disorders? Not really...

Why network structures block reductionism in psychopathology research

D. Borsboom*, A.O.J. Cramer, A. Kalis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

In the past decades, reductionism has dominated both research directions and funding policies in clinical psychology and psychiatry. However, the intense search for the biological basis of mental disorders has not resulted in conclusive reductionist explanations of psychopathology. Recently, network models have been proposed as an alternative framework for the analysis of mental disorders, in which mental disorders arise from the causal interplay between symptoms. In this paper, we show that this conceptualization can help understand why reductionist approaches in psychiatry and clinical psychology are on the wrong track. First, symptom networks preclude the identification of a common cause of symptomatology with a neurobiological condition, because in symptom networks there is no such common cause. Second, symptom network relations depend on the content of mental states and as such feature intentionality. Third, the strength of network relations is highly likely to partially depend on cultural and historical contexts as well as external mechanisms in the environment. Taken together, these properties suggest that, if mental disorders are indeed networks of causally related symptoms, reductionist accounts cannot achieve the level of success associated with reductionist disease models in modern medicine. As an alternative strategy, we propose to interpret network structures in terms of D. C. Dennett's (1987) notion of real patterns, and suggest that, instead of being reducible to a biological basis, mental disorders feature biological and psychological factors that are deeply intertwined in feedback loops. This suggests that neither psychological nor biological levels can claim causal or explanatory priority, and that a holistic research strategy is necessary for progress in the study of mental disorders.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2
Number of pages22
JournalBehavioral and Brain Sciences
Volume42
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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Keywords

  • AGE-OF-ONSET
  • ANXIOUS TEMPERAMENT
  • BORDERLINE PERSONALITY-DISORDER
  • CORTICOTROPIN-RELEASING-FACTOR
  • CRITICAL SLOWING-DOWN
  • CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE
  • DOMAIN CRITERIA RDOC
  • OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER
  • PANIC DISORDER
  • POSTTRAUMATIC-STRESS-DISORDER
  • networks
  • philosophy
  • psychometrics
  • psychopathology
  • reductionism

Cite this

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title = "Brain disorders? Not really...: Why network structures block reductionism in psychopathology research",
abstract = "In the past decades, reductionism has dominated both research directions and funding policies in clinical psychology and psychiatry. However, the intense search for the biological basis of mental disorders has not resulted in conclusive reductionist explanations of psychopathology. Recently, network models have been proposed as an alternative framework for the analysis of mental disorders, in which mental disorders arise from the causal interplay between symptoms. In this paper, we show that this conceptualization can help understand why reductionist approaches in psychiatry and clinical psychology are on the wrong track. First, symptom networks preclude the identification of a common cause of symptomatology with a neurobiological condition, because in symptom networks there is no such common cause. Second, symptom network relations depend on the content of mental states and as such feature intentionality. Third, the strength of network relations is highly likely to partially depend on cultural and historical contexts as well as external mechanisms in the environment. Taken together, these properties suggest that, if mental disorders are indeed networks of causally related symptoms, reductionist accounts cannot achieve the level of success associated with reductionist disease models in modern medicine. As an alternative strategy, we propose to interpret network structures in terms of D. C. Dennett's (1987) notion of real patterns, and suggest that, instead of being reducible to a biological basis, mental disorders feature biological and psychological factors that are deeply intertwined in feedback loops. This suggests that neither psychological nor biological levels can claim causal or explanatory priority, and that a holistic research strategy is necessary for progress in the study of mental disorders.",
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language = "English",
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journal = "Behavioral and Brain Sciences",
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Brain disorders? Not really... Why network structures block reductionism in psychopathology research. / Borsboom, D.; Cramer, A.O.J.; Kalis, A.

In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 42, e2, 2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - Brain disorders? Not really...

T2 - Why network structures block reductionism in psychopathology research

AU - Borsboom, D.

AU - Cramer, A.O.J.

AU - Kalis, A.

PY - 2019

Y1 - 2019

N2 - In the past decades, reductionism has dominated both research directions and funding policies in clinical psychology and psychiatry. However, the intense search for the biological basis of mental disorders has not resulted in conclusive reductionist explanations of psychopathology. Recently, network models have been proposed as an alternative framework for the analysis of mental disorders, in which mental disorders arise from the causal interplay between symptoms. In this paper, we show that this conceptualization can help understand why reductionist approaches in psychiatry and clinical psychology are on the wrong track. First, symptom networks preclude the identification of a common cause of symptomatology with a neurobiological condition, because in symptom networks there is no such common cause. Second, symptom network relations depend on the content of mental states and as such feature intentionality. Third, the strength of network relations is highly likely to partially depend on cultural and historical contexts as well as external mechanisms in the environment. Taken together, these properties suggest that, if mental disorders are indeed networks of causally related symptoms, reductionist accounts cannot achieve the level of success associated with reductionist disease models in modern medicine. As an alternative strategy, we propose to interpret network structures in terms of D. C. Dennett's (1987) notion of real patterns, and suggest that, instead of being reducible to a biological basis, mental disorders feature biological and psychological factors that are deeply intertwined in feedback loops. This suggests that neither psychological nor biological levels can claim causal or explanatory priority, and that a holistic research strategy is necessary for progress in the study of mental disorders.

AB - In the past decades, reductionism has dominated both research directions and funding policies in clinical psychology and psychiatry. However, the intense search for the biological basis of mental disorders has not resulted in conclusive reductionist explanations of psychopathology. Recently, network models have been proposed as an alternative framework for the analysis of mental disorders, in which mental disorders arise from the causal interplay between symptoms. In this paper, we show that this conceptualization can help understand why reductionist approaches in psychiatry and clinical psychology are on the wrong track. First, symptom networks preclude the identification of a common cause of symptomatology with a neurobiological condition, because in symptom networks there is no such common cause. Second, symptom network relations depend on the content of mental states and as such feature intentionality. Third, the strength of network relations is highly likely to partially depend on cultural and historical contexts as well as external mechanisms in the environment. Taken together, these properties suggest that, if mental disorders are indeed networks of causally related symptoms, reductionist accounts cannot achieve the level of success associated with reductionist disease models in modern medicine. As an alternative strategy, we propose to interpret network structures in terms of D. C. Dennett's (1987) notion of real patterns, and suggest that, instead of being reducible to a biological basis, mental disorders feature biological and psychological factors that are deeply intertwined in feedback loops. This suggests that neither psychological nor biological levels can claim causal or explanatory priority, and that a holistic research strategy is necessary for progress in the study of mental disorders.

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KW - CORTICOTROPIN-RELEASING-FACTOR

KW - CRITICAL SLOWING-DOWN

KW - CULTURAL NEUROSCIENCE

KW - DOMAIN CRITERIA RDOC

KW - OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER

KW - PANIC DISORDER

KW - POSTTRAUMATIC-STRESS-DISORDER

KW - networks

KW - philosophy

KW - psychometrics

KW - psychopathology

KW - reductionism

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DO - 10.1017/S0140525X17002266

M3 - Article

VL - 42

JO - Behavioral and Brain Sciences

JF - Behavioral and Brain Sciences

SN - 0140-525X

M1 - e2

ER -