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Description: In “the old days” ( a couple of hundred years ago) the general understanding of fever (an above average body temperature) was a problem in and of itself. The fever was seen as the disease. Efforts were made to reduce the fever (cold compresses etc.) and sometimes it went away and the person got better (less fevered) and sometimes it did not and the person died, of fever. Today we still worry about fevers but not as problems in and off themselves. Instead we view fevers as an indication that the body is trying to fight something off and the fever is a side-effect of that process. We still need to worry about runaway fevers but that does not stop us from trying to figure out and to treat the fever’s underlying cause. So, in the old days we stopped our thinking about, and our understanding of, symptoms being presented at fever but now we understand that fever is indicative of a deeper issue or condition that needs to be addressed if the fever is to go away. Makes sense right? Of course it does. Ok, but does this mean we have everything figured out now or is today going to become another version of “the old days” in the future? If this is true then what are we believing to be true today that will turn out to be similar to our old notions of fever? Well, how about this. Would there be an advantage to looking at some “abnormal psychological” symptoms less as presenting problems reflective of neurochemical imbalances or other brain-based dysfunctions and, instead, as indicators of something else that needs to be addressed? What if some versions of depression are indicators of a need for significant life changes? What if delusions of grandeur are adaptive in some ways? What if dyslexia is a reflection of an atypical set of skills for dealing with the world? And what if delusions such as hearing voices might not be entirely crazy (or at least better dealt with by NOT seeing them as completely such)? Ok, yes, I see that these sound a bit odd but welcome to Evolutionary Psychiatry. Keep and open mind and have a read through the article linked below that provides an engaging overview of the emerging, paradigm shifting, approach to some disorders.

Source: The helpful delusion, Justin Garson, Aeon-Psyche.

Date: January 17, 2023

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Article Link: https://aeon.co/essays/evidence-grows-that-mental-illness-is-more-than-dysfunction

So, what do you think of Evolutionary Psychiatry? If depression as a sign of a need for life change or some delusions may be adaptive suggestions are too hard to consider what about the finding that a full third of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic? What about blues musician Kevin Burt’s observation that ADHD as opposed to a fixed set list makes his live performances better and more engaging? The adaptiveness of some behaviors may not seem “normal” but then some individuals’ worlds and experiences are not particularly “normal” either. It is all a bit disorienting isn’t it. However, as we learned to look behind fevers for other issues while still worrying about the fevers perhaps we need to begin to consider similarly expanding our psychiatric/ abnormal psychology perspectives as well looking for adaptivity and evolutionary advantages. Could be rather interesting!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What was the “old” view of fever?
  2. What are some abnormal psychological things that we treat today like we used to think about fever medically?
  3. What are some examples of psychiatric symptoms that might benefit from a little re-thinking in terms of adaptational possibilities and where might doing so take us in our approaches to treatment and to dealing with social stigma?

References (Read Further):

Taylor, H., & Vestergaard, M. D. (2022). Developmental dyslexia: disorder or specialization in exploration?. Frontiers in Psychology, 3374. Link

Brüne, M. (2016). Borderline Personality DisorderWhy ‘fast and furious’?. Evolution, medicine, and public health, 2016(1), 52-66. Link

Habib, M. (2021). The neurological basis of developmental dyslexia and related disorders: A reappraisal of the temporal hypothesis, twenty years on. Brain sciences, 11(6), 708. Link

Ritunnano, R., Kleinman, J., Oshodi, D. W., Michail, M., Nelson, B., Humpston, C. S., & Broome, M. R. (2022). Subjective experience and meaning of delusions in psychosis: a systematic review and qualitative evidence synthesis. The Lancet Psychiatry. Link

Isham, L., Loe, B. S., Hicks, A., Wilson, N., Bird, J. C., Bentall, R. P., & Freeman, D. (2022). The meaning in grandiose delusions: measure development and cohort studies in clinical psychosis and non-clinical general population groups in the UK and Ireland. The Lancet Psychiatry, 9(10), 792-803. Link

Devendorf, A., Bender, A., & Rottenberg, J. (2020). Depression presentations, stigma, and mental health literacy: A critical review and YouTube content analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 78, 101843. Link

Devendorf, A., & Zikmund-Fisher, B. Framing depression as a functional signal, not a disease: Rationale and initial evidence. Link

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