Thursday, 5 December 2013

Are Mental Disorders Embedded in Brain, Body and Environment?

In recent years the enactive framework of cognition has begun to slowly filter through into the world of psychiatry. It goes like this: If, as radical enactivists propose, the mind is a dynamical system extended throughout the brain, body and environment, this must hold true of a disordered mind. Our neural machinery is just one necessary constituent involved in mental disorders but our body and environment are so tightly coupled that they too are necessary. The point here, is that our psychosocial environment doesn't just provide a context in the form of inputs to the brain, it is literally part of what enactivists conceptualise as the mind. This might seem strange or indeed outright ridiculous but bear with me.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Why Don't Medical Students Choose Psychiatry?

In this month's issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, Goldacre et al discuss psychiatric recruitment in their paper 'Choice and rejection of psychiatry as a career: Surveys of UK medical graduates from 1974 to 2009'

Recruitment has been a sore point for the Royal College over the last few years with numbers

Monday, 25 February 2013

Why Psychiatry Needs a Unified Theory of Mental Illness

Both practice and research in psychiatry, as with any other medical speciality will always be constrained by underlying philosophical and ethical assumptions. In order to describe, discuss, debate or deride any theory, we necessarily assume an ontology of the subject at hand - that is our view on the nature of things as they are. Be it implicitly or explicitly this is simply inescapable. At least to me it is.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

There's something very wrong with the new Bond film. But the way in which it was received is much worse...

Ten days ago the Guardian printed a rather bizarre piece on mental health stigma entitled: "Skyfail: why the new Bond villain perpetuates mental health stigma". I have blogged about mental illness (particularly schizophrenia) and stigma a few times before and it certainly is a very real and important issue with direct impact on mental illness sufferers themselves. That said, I really don't see how the new Bond film has got dragged into all this; it does not stigmatise the mentally ill - or at least not in the way the author suggests.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Wilhelm Wundt and the limits to a Positivist Psychology

Wilhelm Wundt is most commonly known as the `father of experimental psychology'. Having created the first laboratory of experimental psychology in Leipzig, Wundt, along with his assistant Oswald Kulpe, promoted the application of the experimental method in psychology. Ironically, from this incomplete perspective, Wundt's psychology could be viewed as being part of the natural sciences or naturwissenschaften and as such, in accordance with the necessity for empirical verification required by a positivist Machian philosophy.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A Pilot Study Investigating the Relationship Between Executive Control and Overgeneral Autobiographical Memory using an Adapted Autobiographical Memory Task - Part One

Having spent a lot of time on this blog talking about embodied cognition, I went and wrote my 3rd year psychology dissertation firmly within a traditional neurocognitive paradigm - sorry Andrew and Sabrina! Nevertheless it gives a reasonably detailed overview of overgeneral autobiographical memory, its association with psychopathology and potential underlying mechanisms. It got a decent first so I thought I'd whack it on the blog anyway as it's been a while.

Autobiographical Memory (AM) refers to the recollection of personal events or experiences from an individual’s past. Broadly, AM consists of a knowledge base of episodic memories and semantic information about the conceptual self (Griffith et al 2011, Conway 2005). Autobiographical memory is intimately linked with our experience of a continuous sense of self and identity (Conway and Playdell-Pearce 2000), providing a key role in problem solving and future goal setting, in light of past experience (Williams 2006).

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Feeling Depressed? Get...Botox? - Bodily Feedback and the implications of Embodied Cognition for Psychiatry

I have written a lot about embodied cognition recently, which might seem strange for a blog from a Psychiatry Society. Granted, in part this has been due the fact I have a psychology exam on it in a week's time. But there are also more substantial reasons why it's taken up so much blogging space.

For one, there is a huge problem with the computer metaphor of mind in which amodal, abstract symbols are manipulated based on complex algorithms and the embodied approach provides a decent stab at an alternative. I also think any theory which potentially revolutionises our concept of the mind will have important implications for clinical Psychology and Psychiatry. In order for Psychiatrists to understand what happens when the mind (to put it crudely) goes wrong, they need to have a decent working model of 'normal' mind in the first place.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Mind: Some problems with the Classical Computer Metaphor - Part Two

A Tenuous link to Extended Mind
In part one I briefly explained what the computer metaphor entails and discussed the first of three intertwined problems that I feel the amodal paradigm faces;

1) Conceptual and philosophical issues with amodal abstract symbol manipulation

In this post I focus on the second problem;

2) Strengths of competing paradigms, such as embodied cognition

Embodied Cognition

In addition to the conceptual and philosophical issues surrounding the amodal approach, there is an increasing body of evidence supporting an alternative paradigm - embodied cognition. Embodiment is a rather general umbrella term, influenced by phenomenology, ecological psychology, AI, philosophy and heavily overlaps with grounded cognition, extended mind theories and embedded cognition - though there are subtle differences. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Mind: Some problems with the Classical Computer Metaphor - Part one

[part two is here]
Over the last year of my intercalated psychology degree I have (admittedly superficially) been introduced to a fascinating array of topics and studies from V S Ramachandran's work on phantom limbs to Jayne's rather bizarre 'bicameral mind' to British MP Christopher Mayhew tripping on Mescaline.

But whether it was psycholinguistics, embodied cognition, perceptual control theory, consciousness, conceptual and historical issues or cognitive neuroscience, a common theme seems to have arisen throughout: namely the problem with viewing mind as analogous with a classical computer

Sunday, 13 May 2012

In Search of the Mind: An Introduction to the Hard Problem of Consciousness - Part Two

Functionalism - Unfinished Business
In Part One, we outlined that the Hard problem of consciousness is explaining how the subjective feelings of 'what it is like to be conscious' can arise from physical molecules and neurons in the brain. We also critiqued the Functionalist approach to solving the issue, considering Jackson's thought experiment of Mary the colourblind scientist. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Does Psychology Need a Revolution? An Interview with Richard Marken on the Radical Implications of Perceptual Control Theory

A few posts ago I wrote a piece on Perceptual Control Theory and how it is being applied clinically to mental health by the likes of Tim Carey and Warren Mansell, in the form of Method of Levels therapy. Very basically, PCT argues we seek to control our perceptions not our behavior. A key feature is a negative feedback loop, such that every action feeds back to influence our perceptions, as we attempt to control the perception based on an internal reference (e.g. our goals). What I hadn't realised was just how significant and controversial the implications of PCT are for Psychology.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Embodied Cognition: How not to write a paper...or design an experiment...or analyse results or...

As part of my Embodied Cognition module, we have to practise reviewing papers, and provide a recommendation on whether the article should be accepted, revised or rejected. If you're sad, like me, this is quite a fun task. Picking out methodological and conceptual errors is a great way to test if you actually understand what you are reading or not. It is also an essential component of the scientific method. The review encourages a rigorous inspection of the experimental design, statistical analysis and conclusions drawn. The particular paper (published in Brain Research) up for review this week was...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

In Search of the Mind: An Introduction to the Hard Problem of Consciousness - Part one

[part 2 is here]
Introduction to the Mind-Body Problem
The Hard Problem of consciousness lies centrally to the Mind-Body Problem, concerning itself with the metaphysics (ontology) of mind. That is to ask ‘What is our understanding of the mind’s nature and what are the implications for its relationship with the physical world?’ This question traditionally leads to two distinct lines of thought; Dualism versus Materialism. 

To summarise the debate, we may do so as follows:    

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Brief Introduction to Neural Networks: Part One

What is a Neural Network? - The Role of Models
Models are used throughout the cognitive sciences primarily to illustrate and test theories and to generate new predictions. Scientists develop a model, use data to test the model and compare the outcomes to what would be expected based on real world phenomena. Neural networks, (also known as Connectionist Models or Parallel Distributed Processing - PDP) are one of two ways to computationally model aspects of cognition.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Damasio's Error - Faith in Science and the Real Story of Phineas Gage

The story of Phineas Gage has become the iconic classic case study in Cognitive Neuroscience. It is the treasured parable, relentlessly churned out in the introductory chapters of cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology textbooks as an example of how brain changes can lead to behavioural or even personality changes. It's a facinating story: But is it true?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Why the Myth of the of Homicidal 'Schizophrenic' is still a myth...

I previously wrote a blog arguing that UK Schizophrenia sufferers were just as (un)likely to commit homicide as the average American. I also mentioned that whilst UK Schizophrenia sufferers were more likely to commit homicide than the average UK citizen, the vast majority (99.9951%) do not. And I went on to explain understanding the difference between relative and absolute risk.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Insights into Conciousness - Give Phenomenology a Chance

Phenomenology has it tough. Dismissed by the likes of Daniel Dennett et al as a non-scientific introspective hangover from the likes of Wundt, philosophers and cognitive scientists are often keen to emphasise phenomenology has little role to play in the modern science or philosophy of understanding consciousness

There are those that disagree however, arguing that phenomenology done right, can lead to new insights with regards to how we define consciousness, provide the necessary restraints on experimental research and can in turn guide and influence theory.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Stigma of Mental Illness: The Myth of the Homicidal ‘Schizophrenic’ pt 2/2

Part 1 is here 
Blog summarising the comments is here

The Misconception: Schizophrenia sufferers are ‘violent homicidal maniacs’.

The Truth:  The vast majority of schizophrenia sufferers are not violent or murderous. In fact, the schizophrenia ‘population’ in the UK is just as likely to commit homicide as the general population of the USA and slightly less likely than the general population of Russia.

The implications: People with schizophrenia (and other mental disorders) are discriminated against by society based on a stigma which is wildly inaccurate. This leads to a lower quality of life and further reductions in mental health.

The Stigma of Mental Illness: The Myth of the Homicidal ‘Schizophrenic’ pt 1/2

The Misconception: Schizophrenia sufferers are ‘violent homicidal maniacs’.

The Truth:  The vast majority of schizophrenia sufferers are not violent or murderous. In fact, the schizophrenia ‘population’ in the UK is just as likely to commit homicide as the general population of the USA and slightly less likely than the general population of Russia.

The implications: People with schizophrenia (and other mental disorders) are discriminated against by society based on a stigma which is wildly inaccurate. This leads to a lower quality of life and further reductions in mental health.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Blue Monday and other Myths of Mental Illness, Top 5 Blogs and other stuff...

Article for Live Magazine
I have written an article on the so called 'Blue Monday', other mental illness myths and stigma for Live Magazine. So please check it out!

New blogs coming soooooooon
Since the Live Magazine bit is for a younger audience, I shall be posting a more detailed, referenced piece on stigma on the blog soon.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

What is Embodied Cognition? - A Brief Introduction - Pt2/2

 Part 1/2 can be found here.

Strong Embodied Cognition - Dynamical Systems, Feedback Loops and Turbocharged Engines

The strong approach to Embodied Cognition distinguishes itself from the weaker form in that its implications leave no room for an isolated brain or the classical cognitive model of mind. That is to say that strong EC cannot be reunited with the computational paradigm. On this view, cognition is understood as part of a dynamic system incorporating brain, body and environment, whereby every output is fed back, in what is known as a feedback loop. The nature of the interactions between self and environment continuously feed back, resulting in the emergence of a tightly coupled system - the mind.

What is Embodied Cognition? - A Brief Introduction - Pt 1/2

The Brain says "A complex of important misapprehensions center around the question of the provenance of thoughts. John thinks of me as the point source of the intellectual products he identifies as his thoughts. But, to put it crudely, I do not have John's thoughts. John has John’s thoughts." – Clark 1997

Embodied Cognition (EC) is a relatively new movement, incorporating a variety of fields such as Phenomenology, Artificial Intelligence, Ecological Psychology and Robotics. The problem in defining EC is that it is a broad research programme, rather than a theory per se and as such, is often conceptualised in various ways leading to quite different implications. Perhaps to begin with, it is best defined in terms of what it is not.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Perceptual Control Theory and Method of Levels - New Approaches to Psychotherapy

In the last two blogs we discussed the possible role for a Transdiagnostic approach to psychotherapy, emphasising the importance in recognising underlying processes across psychological disorders. We have also looked at the role of metacognition (awareness of our thinking processes) both as a theory and a therapeutic approach. A third approach which ties in with these theories is a therapy formulated by Tim Carey called Method of Levels (MOL). Based on the principles of Powers' Perceptual Control Theory (PCT), it incorporates metacognition and suggests a possible mechanism underlying the transdiagnostic approach - inflexible control. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Exploring the Underlying Processes of Mental Illness - An interview with Dr Warren Mansell on the Transdiagostic Approach

Hi Warren. First, congratulations on winning the May Davidson Award 2011.  Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I completed a DPhil at University of Oxford on cognitive processes in social phobia with David M. Clark and Anke Ehlers in 1997. Since then, I have developed an interested in processes shared across psychiatric disorders, how to explain them using control theory and also how to understand the mood swings in bipolar disorder and develop new forms of cognitive behavioural therapy. I have been based at the University of Manchester since 2005, where I do a mixture of research, teaching, training and delivering therapies.

How did you become interested in mental health?

I was always interested in why some people have very different emotions to others. Why do some experiences, like a racing heart, make people shaken to their bones with fear, and other people relish the feeling? I wanted to understand this properly and help people change the way they think about their feelings – if they want to!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Beyond Cognition – An interview with Adrian Wells on Meta-Cognitive Therapy

Hi Adrian, thanks for speaking with MancPsychSoc.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a Clinical Psychologist with a background in attention and information processing theory and research. I conducted my PhD on attention and emotion before going on to Clinical Psychology Training, after which I spent a year working with Aaron Beck in Philadelphia where I worked in the area of Cognitive Therapy.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

BBC Radio 4 - Brain Season

I was going to write a piece on BBC 4's Brain season about how interesting it is and also how annoying the website is to navigate. It turns out MindHacks has done it for me, with some advice on how to get around. 

Of particular interest are Neuroscience and Society and Mind Myths

Although strictly this is neuroscience it has obvious implications for Psychiatry, Psychology and Mental Health and their roles in society. So enjoy!

*A blog on the stigma of mental illness coming soon*

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Schizophrenia is (arguably*) 80% heritable; it is not 80% genetic

The misconception:  Heritability is the measure of the extent to which genes cause a particular trait within an individual and is therefore a measure of causation.

The truth: Heritability is a measure of the extent to which variation of a phenotype between individuals in a population is due to differences in their genes. It is therefore a measure of variation not causation.

The Implications: When a mental disorder is said to be x% heritable, people wrongly assume it is x% genetic and 100-x% environmental, thus missing the point that both play a crucial and complex role.

Welcome to the Manchester Psychiatry Society blog


Welcome to the first ever Manchester Psychiatry Society blog.

The plan is to post regular blogs written by folks inside and out of the Psych Soc. We will be contacting Psychiatrists, Psychologists and other members of the Mental Health Trust for some insightful, thought provoking nuggets of literary gold. As well as writing some pieces ourselves, we would love for you to send in any pieces you have written and ideas for topics plus feedback to You will also be able to post comments in response to the blogs we post.