Advertisement

Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Evolutionary psychiatry and the schizophrenia paradox: a critique

Abstract

Evolutionary psychiatrists invariably consider schizophrenia to be a paradox: how come natural selection has not yet eliminated the infamous ‘genes for schizophrenia’ if the disorder simply crushes the reproductive success of its carriers, if it has been around for thousands of years already, and if it has a uniform prevalence throughout the world? Usually, the answer is that the schizophrenic genotype is subject to some kind of balancing selection: the benefits it confers would then outbalance the obvious damage it does. In this paper, however, I will show that the assumptions underlying such evolutionary accounts of schizophrenia are at least implausible, and sometimes even erroneous. First of all, I will examine some factual assumptions, in particular about schizophrenia’s impact on reproductive success, its genetics, its history, and its epidemiology. Secondly, I will take a critical look at a major philosophical assumption in evolutionary psychiatric explanations of schizophrenia. Indeed, evolutionary psychiatrists take it for granted that schizophrenia is a natural kind, i.e. a bounded and objectively real entity with discrete biological causes. My refutation of this natural kind view suggests that schizophrenia is in fact a reified umbrella concept, covering a heterogeneous group of disorders. Therefore, schizophrenia, as we now know it, simply doesn’t have an evolutionary history.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Adriaens P. and De Block A. 2006. The evolution of a social construction: the case of male homosexuality. Perspect. Biol. Med. 49(4) (in press)

  2. Allen J., Sarich V. (1988). Schizophrenia in an evolutionary perspective. Perspectives in biology and medicine 32:132–53

  3. Avila M., Thaker G., Adami H. (2001). Genetic epidemiology and schizophrenia: a study of reproductive fitness. Schizophrenia Research 47: 233–241

  4. Bentall R. et al. (1988). Abandoning the concept of ‘schizophrenia’: some implications of validity arguments for psychological research into psychotic phenomena. Br. J. Clin. Psychol. 27:303–324

  5. Bentall R. (1993). Deconstructing the concept of ‘schizophrenia’. J. Ment. Health 2:223–228

  6. Bhatia T. et al. (2003). Gender and procreation among patients with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Research 68:387–394

  7. Blom J. (2003). Deconstructing schizophrenia. An analysis of the epistemic and nonepistemic values that govern the biomedical schizophrenia concept. Boom, Amsterdam

  8. Böök J. (1953). Schizophrenia as a gene mutation. Acta Genet. 4:133–139

  9. Boyle M. 1990. Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion? Routledge, New York

  10. Brown J. (2003). Identification of candidate genes for schizophrenia based on natural resistance to infectious diseases. Acta Neuropsychiatrica 15(3):108–114

  11. Brüne M. (2004). Schizophrenia – an evolutionary enigma?. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 28:41–53

  12. Burns J. (2003). An evolutionary theory of schizophrenia: cortical connectivity, metarepresentation, and the social brain. Behav. Brain Sci. 27(6):831–885

  13. Byne W. et al. (1999). The neurochemistry of schizophrenia. In: Charney D., Nestler E., Bunney B. (eds). Neurobiology of Mental Illness. Oxford University Press, Oxford

  14. Carter M., Watts C. (1971). Possible biological advantages among schizophrenics’ relatives. Br. J. Psychiatry 118:453–460

  15. Charlton B. (2000). Psychiatry and the human condition. Radcliffe Medical Press, Oxford

  16. Cooper J. et al. (1972). Psychiatric Diagnosis in New York and London. Oxford University Press, Oxford

  17. Crow T. (2000). Schizophrenia as the price that Homo sapiens pay for language: a resolution of the central paradox in the origin of the species. Brain Res. Rev. 31:118–129

  18. Davatzikos C. et al. (2005). Whole-brain morphometric study of schizophrenia revealing a spatially complex set of focal abnormalities. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 62:1218–1227

  19. Ellard J. (1987). Did schizophrenia exist before the eighteenth century? Aust. N. Z. J. Psychiatry 21(3):306–318

  20. Fanous A., Kendler K. (2005). Genetic heterogeneity, modifier genes, and quantitative phenotypes in psychiatric illness: searching for a framework. Mol. Psychiatry 10(1):6–13

  21. Gottesman I., Gould T. (2003). The endophenotype concept in psychiatry: etymology and strategic intentions. Am. J. Psychiatry 160:636–645

  22. Hare E. (1988). Schizophrenia as a recent disease. British Journal of Psychiatry 153:521–531

  23. Haslam N. (2000). Psychiatric categories as natural kinds: essentialist thinking about mental disorders. Social Res. 67:1031–1058

  24. Haukka J. et al. (2003). Fertility of patients with schizophrenia, their siblings, and the general population. American Journal of Psychiatry 160(3):460–463

  25. Heinrichs R. (2001). In search of madness. Schizophrenia and neuroscience. OUP, Oxford

  26. Heinrichs R. (2003). Historical origins of schizophrenia: Two early madmen and their illness. Journal of the history of the behavioral sciences 39(4):349–363

  27. Holden C. (2003). Deconstructing schizophrenia. Science 299:333–335

  28. Horrobin D. (2001). The Madness of Adam and Eve. How Schizophrenia Shaped Humanity. Bantam Press, London

  29. Hutchinson G. et al. (1999). Fertility and marital rates in first-onset schizophrenia. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 34:617–621

  30. Huxley J. et al. (1964). Schizophrenia as a genetic morphism. Nature 204:220–221

  31. Jablensky A. et al. (1992). Schizophrenia: manifestations, incidence and course in different cultures. A World Health Organization ten-country study. Psychological Medicine – Monograph Supplement 20:1–97

  32. Jeste D. et al. (1985). Did Schizophrenia Exist Before the Eighteenth Century?. Comprehensive Psychiatry 26(6):493–503

  33. Joseph J. (2003). The Gene Illusion. Genetic Research in Psychiatry and Psychology Under the Microscope. PCCS Books, Ross-on-Wye

  34. Karlsson J. (2001). Mental abilities of male relatives of psychotic patients. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 104:466–468

  35. Keen T. (1999). Schizophrenia: orthodoxy and heresies. A review of alternative possibilities. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing 6:415–424

  36. Keller M. and Miller G. 2006. Resolving the paradox of common, harmful, heritable mental disorders: which evolutionary genetic models work best? Behav. Brain. Sci. (in press)

  37. Lane A. et al. (1995). Reproductive behaviour in schizophrenia relative to other mental disorders: evidence for increased fertility in men despite decreased marital rate. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 91(4):222–8

  38. Ledgerwood L. et al. (2003). Genes, germs and schizophrenia. An evolutionary perspective. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 46(3):317–48

  39. McGrath J. (2005). Myths and plain truths about schizophrenia epidemiology. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 111(1):4–11

  40. Meehl P. (1990). Toward an integrated theory of schizotaxia, schizotypy, and schizophrenia. Journal of Personality Disorders 4:1–99

  41. Nanko S., Moridaira J. (1993). Reproductive rates in schizophrenic outpatients. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 87:400–404

  42. Nesse R. (1984). An evolutionary perspective on psychiatry. Comparative Psychiatry 25:575–580

  43. Nettle D. (2001). Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity and Human Nature. Oxford University Press, Oxford

  44. Nettle D., Clegg H. (2005). Schizotypy, creativity and mating success in humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 273:611–615

  45. O'Reilly. et al. 2001. Schizotypy and creativity: an evolutionary connection? Pers. Indiv. Differ. 31:1067–1078

  46. Polimeni J., Reiss J. (2002). How shamanism and group selection may reveal the origins of schizophrenia. Medical Hypotheses 58:244–8

  47. Sarbin T. (1990). Toward the obsolescence of the schizophrenia hypothesis. The Journal of Mind and Behaviour 11(3):259–284

  48. Srinivasan T., Padmavati R. (1997). Fertility and schizophrenia: evidence for increased fertility in the relatives of schizophrenic patients. Acta Psychiatr. Scand. 95:260–264

  49. Stevens A., Price J. (2000). Prophets, Cults and Madness. Duckworth, London

  50. Sullivan R., Allen J. (2004). Commentary: Natural selection and schizophrenia. Brain and Behavioral Sciences 27(6):865–6

  51. Thaker G., Carpenter W. (2001). Advances in schizophrenia. Nature Medicine 7(6):667–671

  52. Torrey E. (1980). Schizophrenia and civilization. Jason Aronson, New York

  53. Torrey E. (1987). Prevalence studies in schizophrenia. British Journal of Psychiatry 150:598–608

  54. Van Os J. et al. (1993). Schizophrenia sans frontières: concepts of schizophrenia among French and British psychiatrists. British Medical Journal 307:489–492

  55. Waddell C. (1998). Creativity and mental illness: is there a link?. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 43:166–172

Download references

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all members of the Interdisciplinary Center for Evolution and Behaviour (ICEG), Jan Dirk Blom, Vishwajit Nimgaonkar, William Byne, and an anonymous referee for their thoughtful comments.

Author information

Correspondence to Pieter R. Adriaens.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Adriaens, P.R. Evolutionary psychiatry and the schizophrenia paradox: a critique. Biol Philos 22, 513–528 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-006-9042-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Balancing selection
  • Evolutionary psychiatry
  • Heterogeneity
  • Natural kinds
  • Schizophrenia