Causes of Psychopathology
• Genetic susceptibility
• Adverse experiences in early childhood
• Overt brain injuries
Knowledge about different disorders has increased due to
• Advances in psychiatric genetics,
• Brain imaging technology
• Improved understanding of the relationship between adverse early childhood
experiences and the development of psychopathology later in life
Apparently there is little common ground between the fields of genetics,
neuroscience, and animal models of psychiatric disorders on one hand, and the
various disciplines of psychotherapy, social psychiatry or crosscultural psychiatry on
Scientific explanations are limited as they don’t take into account
• What causes dysfunction (mechanism)
• When the dysfunction set in (ontogeny)
• Why is the original function of the mechanism designed the way it is (adaptive
• How it evolved (phylogeny)
Psychopathological signs are maladaptive in both current perspective and ultimate
perspective because they can cause harm to the individual and are dysfunctional by
their abnormal intensity duration.
What is perceived as abnormal, however, is not simply a matter of objective
evaluation which is free from cultural norms and values. However, there may be quite
large differences of what is considered abnormal depending on the cultural
In a broader view, ADHD, eating disorders, or the epidemic of drug and alcohol
dependence may be ‘culturebound.’
Whether or not primary prevention of psychiatric disorders is a realistic goal is hotly
debated, but the outcome and prognosis of psychiatric disorders can certainly be
improved if early signs and symptoms do not go undetected for months or even years,
as is currently still the case in most disorders.
Current psychiatric conceptualizations are also unable to account for sex differences
in presentation of psychopathological signs and symptoms.
Emphasizing the role of the sex hormone does not explain why there is a sex
difference in behaviours and how it translates into the diagnostic schemes of
psychiatric disorders. Borderline personality disorder more prevalent in women, opposite is true for anti
social personality and delusional jealousy.
Differences betweent he sexes in terms of vulnerability to stress have largely been
Men experience more psychological distress after experiencing negative achievements
and women experience it due to negative interpersonal events.
Psychiatric disorders broadly overlap, and there is also continuity between disordered
states and ‘normalcy.’
DSM and ICD allow for making dsgnoses of an infinite number of comorbid
psychiatric disorders, but certainly some comorbidities go together more often than
Research into psychopathology including an evolutionary perspective may not only
help explain the worldwide increase in prevalence of psychiatric disorders, but also
inform studies into resilience and vulnerability factors of mental disorders.
By integrating proximate and ultimate causation of psychiatric disorders is that
knowledge how and why psychological mechanisms evolved in our species may
strengthen research into resilience against the development of psychopathological
Evolutionary constraints of psychological adaptedness
Common understanding of evolutionary processes suggests that pathologies –
regardless whether physical, cognitive, emotional, or behavioural – convey fitness
disadvantages in terms of survival and reproduction and should therefore be
eliminated by selection over generations. This assumptions disregards two things
1. Majority of adaptations are not optimal by design.
2. Evolution can’t create physical or mental traits de novo. New adaptations
derive from preexisting structures.
Evolution through selection is neither purposeful nor progressive.
The majority of adaptation are not optimal by design. Evolution by selection is a
‘thrifty’ process, such that evlved physical or psychological traits are just sufficiently
well designed to fulfill their function proper. Morever, evolution cannot create
physical or mental traits de novo.
Evolution by selection has equipped defence mechanisms with low and perhaps labile
stimulus thresholds, for example fear and anxiety. Unfavourable environmental
conditions and/or individual predisposition may cause abnormally frequent release of
fear reactions, which, in turn, may lead to tissue damage due to hyperactivity of the
The threshold of anxious reactions can vary within an individual. For example, a
person walking alone in the dark almost certainly has a lower threshold for fear
reactions than the same individual if he or she is in food company with trustworthy
people. Secondly, modern environments have little in common with ancestral living
conditions. This can be referred to as the ‘mismatch hypothesis’ which is the
likelihood that modern environmental conditions including accentuated social
competition potentiate the risk that an individual’s biosocial goals such as care
seeking, caregiving, mate attraction, cooperation with others, and attaining an
acceptable social status are thwarted has increased by magnitudes compared to the
The ‘thrifty gene hypothesis’ posists that genes for maximum calorie extraction were
selected, which now in times of oversupply and abundance of highcaloric diet cause
In ‘modern societies,’ it is still common practice to separate human newborns from
their mothers after birth (at least temporarily), and to separate young mothers from
their supporting social environment.
Accidental overlaying may be a cause for sudden infant death syndrome.
Disorganized attachment is more prevelant in infants of parents with psychiatric
disorders, including affective disorders and substance dependence compared to
healthy parents, and the child’s contradictory behaviours oriented towards its
caregiver reflects the ambilivance between being attracted to the caregiver, who at the
same time is a source of threat or maltreatment.
A parent who expresses threats of suicide not only induces fear of loss and
abandonment in the hild but also confounds attachment related fears with feelings of
Physical and emotional abuse ma