Book: Like-Minded – Externalism and Moral Psychology

Book Title:

Like-Minded – Externalism and Moral Psychology.

Author(s): Andrew Sneddon.

Year: 2011.

Edition: First (1st), Illustrated Edition.

Publisher: MIT Press.

Type(s): Hardcover.

Synopsis:

A proposal that the cognitive processes that make us moral agents are partially constituted by features of our external environments. What are the psychological foundations of morality?

Historically, the issue has been framed as one of emotion versus reason. Hume argued that reason is the slave of the passions and so morality must be based on them; Kant argued that moral law is given by rational agents to themselves in virtue of their rationality.

The debate has continued in these terms to the present day. In Like-Minded, Andrew Sneddon argues that “reason” and “passion” do not satisfactorily capture all the important options for explaining the psychological foundations of morality. He proposes a third possibility: that the cognitive processes that make us moral agents are centrally constituted by features of our external environments.

Sneddon calls this the Wide Moral Systems Hypothesis (WMSH). The WMSH fits within an array of positions known as externalism or the Extended Mind Hypothesis, according to which the world outside our bodies is not just input to cognitive processes located within our brains but partially constitutes those processes.

After explaining the WMSH, Sneddon presents a series of more particular hypotheses about distinct aspects of our moral psychology: moral judgment, moral reasoning, the attribution of moral responsibility, and production of action. Sneddon revisits overlooked externalist aspects of moral psychology, noting the integration of agent and environment found in existing research.

With Like-Minded, Sneddon offers an innovative contribution to work in both moral psychology and the Extended Mind Hypothesis.

Linking Environmental Factors and Mental Health

Research Paper Title

From Family Surroundings to Intestinal Flora, A Literature Review Concerning Epigenetic Processes in Psychiatric Disorders.

Background

Some behaviours or psychiatric conditions seem to be inherited from parents or explain by family environment.

The researchers hypothesised interactions between epigenetic processes, inflammatory response and gut microbiota with family surroundings or environmental characteristics.

Methods

The researchers searched in literature interactions between epigenetic processes and psychiatric disorders with a special interest for environmental factors such as traumatic or stress events, family relationships and also gut microbiota.

They searched on Pubmed, PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES and Sciencedirect articles with the keywords psychiatric disorders, epigenome, microbiome and family relationships.

Results

Some gene polymorphisms interact with negative environment and lead to psychiatric disorders.

Negative environment is correlated with different epigenetic modifications in genes implicated in mental health. Gut microbiota diversity affect host epigenetic.

Animal studies showed evidences for a transgenerational transmission of epigenetic characteristics.

Conclusions

The findings support the hypothesis that epigenetic mediate gene-environment interactions and psychiatric disorders.

Several environmental characteristics such as traumatic life events, family adversity, psychological stress or internal environment such as gut microbiota diversity and diet showed an impact on epigenetic.

These epigenetic modifications are also correlated with neurophysiological, inflammatory or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulations.

Reference

Dubois, T., Reynaert, C., Jacques, D., Lepiece, B. & Zdanowicz, N. (2020) From Family Surroundings to Intestinal Flora, A Literature Review Concerning Epigenetic Processes in Psychiatric Disorders. Psychiatria Danubina. 32(Suppl 1), pp.158-163.

Components & Principles of Effective Treatments in Mental Health

For interventions (to at least be perceived) to be effective in the treatment of mental health conditions, from the perspective of the service user, there are a range of components that one must understand and appreciate.

  • Facilitative service environment(s):
    • Understand how the environment can affect a service user’s experience of treatment.
    • Prioritise good relationships between staff/volunteers and those using the services.
    • Taking a genuine interest in the service user.
    • Being respectful.
    • Helps service users feel at ease and prevent relapse.
  • Access to appropriate treatment(s).
  • Compassionate and non-judgemental support.
    • This can include peer, practical, and emotional support.
  • Interventions that are long enough in duration:
    • Treatment needs to be long enough in duration for the service user to avoid relapse and/or move into recovery.
    • Need for ongoing support.
    • Aftercare programme as a way of ensuring a supportive network to prevent relapse.
  • Interventions that offer stability.
  • Choices (in terms of treatment).
    • Service users like to feel they have a choice in their treatment.
    • Want to be treated as individuals.
    • Individualised care means provider must have flexibility in service delivery.
  • Opportunities to learn (or relearn) how to live.
    • Treatment should be seen as providing opportunities for service users to learn (vocational/life) skills to support them to live their lives.
    • This can aid service users to steer away from problematic patterns of behaviour by providing structure and purpose, alleviating boredom, and distraction from their condition.

The above should be provided with the following three principles in mind:

  1. Within the context of good relationships.
    • You are not there to be the service user’s best friend, but good/positive relationships aid effectiveness of treatment and perceptions of service.
  2. Person-centred care.
    • Where appropriate and practicable, the service/treatment should fit around the service user, not the service user around the service/treatment.
  3. Understanding the complexity of the service user’s (both personal and professional) circumstances.
    • Understanding of the service user’s circumstances can aid adherence to treatment and their journey through their condition.

Finally, remember that the way in which services and treatment are delivered, is considered by many service users, to be more important than the type of treatment provided.

An Examination of Environmental Influences on Genomic Variations, Neurodevelopmental Trajectories & Vulnerability to Psychopathology, with a Focus on Externalising Disorders

Research Paper Title

Consortium on Vulnerability to Externalizing Disorders and Addictions (cVEDA): A developmental cohort study protocol.

Background

Low and middle-income countries like India with a large youth population experience a different environment from that of high-income countries.

The Consortium on Vulnerability to Externalising Disorders and Addictions (cVEDA), based in India, aims to examine environmental influences on genomic variations, neurodevelopmental trajectories and vulnerability to psychopathology, with a focus on externalising disorders.

Methods

cVEDA is a longitudinal cohort study, with planned missingness design for yearly follow-up.

Participants have been recruited from multi-site tertiary care mental health settings, local communities, schools and colleges.

10,000 individuals between 6 and 23 years of age, of all genders, representing five geographically, ethnically, and socio-culturally distinct regions in India, and exposures to variations in early life adversity (psychosocial, nutritional, toxic exposures, slum-habitats, socio-political conflicts, urban/rural living, mental illness in the family) have been assessed using age-appropriate instruments to capture socio-demographic information, temperament, environmental exposures, parenting, psychiatric morbidity, and neuropsychological functioning.

Blood/saliva and urine samples have been collected for genetic, epigenetic and toxicological (heavy metals, volatile organic compounds) studies.

Structural (T1, T2, DTI) and functional (resting state fMRI) MRI brain scans have been performed on approximately 15% of the individuals.

All data and biological samples are maintained in a databank and biobank, respectively.

Discussion

The cVEDA has established the largest neurodevelopmental database in India, comparable to global datasets, with detailed environmental characterisation.

This should permit identification of environmental and genetic vulnerabilities to psychopathology within a developmental framework.

Neuroimaging and neuropsychological data from this study are already yielding insights on brain growth and maturation patterns.

Reference

Sharma, E., Vaidya, N., Iyengar, U., Zhang, Y., Holla, B., Purushottam, M., Chakrabarti, A., Fernandes, G.S., Heron, J., Hickman, M., Desrivieres, S., Kartik, K., Jacob, P., Rangaswamy, M., Bharath, R.D., Barker, G., Orfanos, D.P., Ahuja, C., Murthy, P., Jain, S., Varghese, M., Jayarajan, D., Kumar, K., Thennarasu, K., Basu, D., Subodh, B.N., Kuriyan, R., Kurpad, S.S., Kalyanram, K., Krishnaveni, G., Krishna, M., Singh, R.L., Singh, L.R., Kalyanram, K., Toledano, M., Schumann, G., Benegal, V. & cVEDA Consortium. (2020) Consortium on Vulnerability to Externalizing Disorders and Addictions (cVEDA): A developmental cohort study protocol. BMC Psychiatry. 20(1):2. doi: 10.1186/s12888-019-2373-3.

Causes of Mental Illness

Currently, mental illness is thought to be caused by a complex interaction of factors, including the following:

  • Hereditary;
  • Biologic (physical factors);
  • Psychologic; and/or
  • Environmental (including social and cultural factors).

Research has shown that for many mental health disorders, heredity plays a part. Often, a mental health disorder occurs in people whose genetic make-up makes them vulnerable to such disorders. This vulnerability, combined with life stresses, such as difficulties with family or at work, can lead to the development of a mental disorder.

Also, many experts think that impaired regulation of chemical messengers in the brain (neurotransmitters) may contribute to mental health disorders.

Brain imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), often show changes in the brains of people with a mental health disorder.

Thus, many mental health disorders appear to have a biologic component, much like disorders that are considered neurologic (such as Alzheimer disease).

However, whether the changes seen on imaging tests are the cause or result of the mental health disorder is unclear.