Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 35–47

Is It Me or My Brain? Depression and Neuroscientific Facts


    • Program in ScienceTechnology and Society, MIT

DOI: 10.1023/A:1021353631347

Cite this article as:
Dumit, J. Journal of Medical Humanities (2003) 24: 35. doi:10.1023/A:1021353631347


This article considers the roles played by brain images (e.g., from PET scans) in mass media as experienced by people suffering from mental illness, and as used by scientists and activist groups in demonstrating a biological basis for mental illness. Examining the rhetorical presentation of images in magazines and books, the article describes the persuasive power that brain images have in altering the understanding people have of their own body—their “objective self.” Analyzing first-person accounts of encounters with brain images, it argues that people come to understand themselves as having neurotransmitter imbalances that are the cause of their illnesses via received facts and images of the brain, but that this understanding is incomplete and in tension with the sense that they are their brain. The article concludes by querying the emergence of a “pharmaceutical self,” in which one experiences one's brain as if on drugs, as a new form of objective self-fashioning.

depressionexperiencebrain imagescultural anthropologyrhetoricPET scans

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 2003