Exploring the Deep Frontiers of the Human Mind

The human mind is one of the “last frontiers” yet to be explored. Modern psychiatry and psychology spawn a number of tired jokes among the modern breed of biologically and genetically informed cognitive scientists, for good reason. Virtually everything about the causes and mechanisms of the mental disorders that clinical psychiatrists and psychologists think they know, just ain’t so.

Modern brain imaging combined with modern research into genetics and gene expression threaten to pull the rugs of complacency out from under the pseudosciences of social science, and none too soon.

Here are some interesting findings from a brain imaging comparison of criminal offenders with borderline personality, vs. sociopathic criminal offenders:

The investigators took MRI scans of the two groups of antisocial offenders, with the aim of exploring differences in the cerebral structure of their brains. All offenders had been convicted for capital, violent crimes (including severe bodily injury such as murder, manslaughter, robbery, or rape) from high-security forensic facilities and penal institutions and were formally diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. There was also a comparison group of healthy men.

What did the researchers find? The antisocial offenders with borderline personality disorder had alterations in the orbitofrontal and ventromedial prefrontal cortex regions, which are involved in emotion regulation and reactive aggression; there were also differences in the temporal pole, which is involved in the interpretation of other peoples’ motives. By contrast, the antisocial offenders with high psychopathic traits showed reduced volume mostly in midline cortical areas, which are involved in the processing of self-referential information and self reflection (i.e., dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate/precuneus) and recognizing emotions of others (postcentral gyrus). According to the authors, these findings could reflect neural correlates of the psychopath’s hallmark features: callousness and moral bankruptcy

The authors note that their results must be replicated in larger samples. Still, they say, this inside look into the antisocial brain may yield clues to criminal behavior. __ PT

More at Sociopath World

Very interesting, with a great potential for providing a firmer scientific underpinning to different diagnoses of behaviour.

Even more exciting in terms of future potential, is the possibility of combining neuroimaging studies with studies of gene expression in the brain — including real time gene expression.

Here is a hint at what is possible in terms of connecting genetics findings with psychopathological disorders:

The overlap in heritability attributable to common genetic variation was about 15 percent between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, about 10 percent between bipolar disorder and depression, about 9 percent between schizophrenia and depression, and about 3 percent between schizophrenia and autism.

The newfound molecular genetic evidence linking schizophrenia and depression, if replicated, could have important implications for diagnostics and research, say the researchers. They expected to see more overlap between ADHD and autism, but the modest schizophrenia-autism connection is consistent with other emerging evidence.

The study results also attach numbers to molecular evidence documenting the importance of heritability traceable to common genetic variation in causing these five major mental illnesses. Yet this still leaves much of the likely inherited genetic contribution to the disorders unexplained __Psypost

Combining gene studies with functional and anatomical neuroimaging studies, will push the science of mental disorders forward appreciably. Real time study of gene expression in the brain will bring the study of psychiatric disorders into the 21st century.

Al Fin has had heated arguments with a number of clinical and academic psychiatrists and psychologists regarding the hopelessly backward nature of the conventional classification of mental disorders. Up until now, the best the field could do in response to such criticisms amounted to little more than shrugs, head shakes, and upraised palms.

But now things are changing, and we are learning how to gain a clearer focus on finer dynamic features of brains — both normal and dysfunctional — as they run their laps.

This is a mere beginning, but it is one step away from the old superstitious traditions amounting to little better than speculations of “devil possession.”

Theorists — including those at the Al Fin Institute of Advanced Brain Studies — are hard at work devising hypotheses that can be tested using these tools, and other tools just on the verge of development.

Stay tuned.

More: Related comments from Nobel winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel

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