driving on behavior rd, looking for brain st…

My thoughts on this “intersection” and the issue of one discipline underlying another changed a lot while I read this article.  I have very little background in biology or neuroscience, so almost all of my psychology education has been more of the psychology underlying biology bias.  I also strongly noted the lines “…but this does not mean that fear is activity in the amygdala.  That is simply not the meaning of the term.  “Fear” is not reducible to biology”, but went into that section of reading with the opposite mindset as Jenn- I wrote next to this- “What IS reducible to biology?”.  Clearly, biological processes are immense factors in our physical abilities, disabilities, and phenomena, but I have spent so much time away from this side of things that I struggle to view something without psychological factors or influences.  I am really looking forward to this semester because I feel like this is a whole in my psychology education that I will really benefit from filling.

At the same time that I hold this bias, I can really understand Jenn’s point that many psychological diagnoses are “advertised” as being the results of chemical imbalances and biological flukes.  When I think about tv advertisements for medication, they all talk about the biological causes (and solutions) for psychological disorders.  I found this article  (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/516262)  that’s from a few years ago but talks a lot about this discrepancy and how the knowledge that is largely publicized may not be the whole story.  This citation in particular represents that place of intersection where Miller and Keller are coming from:

Current thinking is that genetics, perhaps regarding serotonin-handling molecules in some cases, combined with life history affects the likelihood that stressful life events will trigger a depressive episode. Stating that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance is extremely simplistic.”

The evidence that is usually used to support the claim of a serotonin imbalance, according to Mr. Lacasse, is the efficacy of SSRIs. Because SSRIs have an effect on depression, and SSRIs affect serotonin, the conclusion touted in the ads is that depression is due to serotonin imbalance. However, this line of reasoning may be inherently flawed; aspirin may relieve headache, but we do not therefore conclude that headaches are caused by low levels of aspirin in the brain.

That last sentence really got me thinking, and kind of confused me… the logic makes sense, and personally I agree with this because of my educational bias, but I just would assume that the extensive research that has been done on SSRIs and depression that the pre-medicated serotonin levels would be known.  Admittedly, I really do not know enough on the subject, but had always assumed that studies had shown low levels of serotonin in people diagnosed with depression.  This sentence seems to imply that such evidence has not been found yet, and that by chance it was discovered that more serotonin helps treat depression.  I can’t help but be very skeptical of that last part.  Either way, I’m intrigued by the possibility of learning how to look at and work with psychology and biology, and hopefully I’ll fill in the gap in my bio/neuro knowledge over the course of the semester.

4 thoughts on “driving on behavior rd, looking for brain st…

  1. That aspirin analogy is kind of awesome. The role of neurogenesis in the hippocampus in depression fits in brilliantly with this: stimulating neurogenesis resolves symptoms of depression and yet inhibiting neurogenesis does not induce depression. Great entry, Hannah H.!


  2. I am really glad that you brought up SSRIs in your post. I had initially considered talking about that aspect, but I decided to go a different route. I actually use SSRIs (actually, I have been on and off quite a few), and I think it is really interesting that these companies only advertise what they believe will bring people to purchase their particular product. What is more interesting, and which I have noticed more recently, are those medications which are now often needed to ‘supplement’ SSRIs (such as Abilify). Why would you need to supplement these drugs? Well, depression, of course, cannot be reduced to ONE biological component!

    Another thing I thought would be good to mention, that is not often thought of when discussing SSRIs (and all depression medication for that matter) are all of the side effects. While I won’t go into detail, I will say that some of the more annoying side effects (incredible impulsiveness, dilated pupils, brain “fuzzies”, etc.) certainly are not characteristic of being happy. So why would medication for depression cause these things to happen? Why is it so difficult to determine the cause of such illnesses? Or rather, why can we not attribute these illnesses to multiple factors?


  3. I agree that conditions such as depression and headaches are often simplified for the general population in a misleading way, especially by pharmaceutical companies. These afflictions are made to seem to have a “quick fix” although it really is much more complex. SSRIs and aspirin are two great examples of medication that are advertised as cure-alls when they sometimes have intense side effects. I think that as far as we’ve come in medical science today, we still have a lot farther to go.


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