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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds In 1998, the neuroscientist Eric Kandel published a very influential article arguing that fundamentally biological and neurological science should be at the basis of psychiatry. Kandel argued that since every action, every behaviour, every emotion that we feel involves changes at the level of the synapse, the connection between two nerve cells, then it has to be the case, Kandel argues, that neurological science can explain human behaviour. Kandel even argued that when somebody goes for therapy, if the therapy is effective at changing their emotions or changing their behaviour, then that change must represent changes in the synaptic structure of the brain, the associative network that the person is using.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds So Kandel would even argue that when somebody with mental health problems goes for therapy and receives some benefit from that therapy, the benefits has accrued because the neurological structure of their brain has changed as a result of the therapy. And Kandel is absolutely right that those synapses are controlled by the machinery that handles the neurotransmitter. And the amount of those is constantly fluctuating as entering our adulthood. But they can dramatically change if the trauma or environment, which could be good for environment, changes those when you’re very young. Because if you can lay down those epigenetic changes when you’re young, they’ll be stronger.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds I hate to use the word everything, but certainly our current knowledge would strongly suggest that it’s about controlling those synapses. And that will be a physical thing if it happens early in development where I said the grey matter, white matter. So you can have those changes, those differences in male female brain structures and size, and that can be down to circulating hormones. So you can build a structure based on the environment. But once you’ve made that structure, you can also modify it on the basis of the neurotransmitters that work within those structures that you’ve laid down in the foetus or early in development of the child. So I would wholeheartedly agree with Eric Kandel.

Skip to 2 minutes and 29 seconds However, I often find that the word everything can be quite misleading when we start to know more. I guess winning the Nobel Prize doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to be right. But it probably does mean that his papers are worth reading. There’s a link to Kandel’s very influential paper on the website for this course just below this video.

Biological models of mental health

This brief video introduces the seminal 1998 paper outlining a ‘new intellectual framework for psychiatry’ by Eric Kandel.

We’ll look at Kandel’s paper in more detail on the next step.

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Psychology and Mental Health: Beyond Nature and Nurture

University of Liverpool

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