Are Psychopaths Favored by Natural Selection? Definitions of Mental Illness and the Roots of Suffering (S3, E14)
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In the episode, "Are Psychopaths Favored by Natural Selection? Definitions of Mental Illness and the Roots of Suffering (S3, E14)," a team of Canadian researchers explored the possibility that psychopathy lacks certain hallmarks of a mental disorder, and thus may be more of an adaptation associated with fitness. The study was published in Evolutionary Psychology at the end of 2021, entitled
Is Psychopathy a Mental Disorder or an Adaptation? Evidence From a Meta-Analysis of the Association Between Psychopathy and Handedness.

Psychopathy is a condition characterized by callousness, detachment, and a lack of empathy. Psychopaths can be highly manipulative, and their antisocial nature inclines them often to criminality, while their traits can be delineated in the clinical label of  antisocial personality disorder. But if being a psychopath isn't mentally ill, what is?  How is a mental disorder different from an  “adaptive life history perspective” ? No agreed on and adequate analysis of the concept of a "mental disorder" currently exists. It is often seen as harmful dysfunction, where dysfunction refers to the failure of an internal mechanism to perform a function for which it has been designed through natural selection to perform, while “harmful” refers to the consequences of this mechanism’s failure that are deemed undesirable by social and cultural standards. Under this conceptualization, a syndrome of cognition and behavior would have to satisfy both criteria—that it is dysfunctional and harmful— to qualify as a mental disorder.

Yet although the causes of mental disorders are not fully understood, the factor this study looked at narrowly was  neurodevelopmental perturbations, which have been linked to other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. According to the study, nonright-handedness is a sign of such perturbations. So the goal of the study is to show a positive association between psychopathy and nonright-handedness, which would support the mental disorder model, whereas a negative association would support the adaptive life history model.

The study was statistically weak, and isolating such specific variables in metanalysis is difficult to do. But in the search for the answers, the negative correlation with nonright-handedness reflects outdated science from the early days of criminal psychology. And if a psychopath's callous and perhaps violent tendencies are simply part of evolution, who is definitively mentally ill? Can't we say that of many "disorders" in the DSM?

Essentially, over the course of 3 decades, there has been no major progress in finding out biological causes that can help in treatment. But if instead of looking at things as pathology, can’t we utilize ideas of functional medicine? Lifestyle choices  can affect our biology such as diet and exercise. Dr Rani Bora and Dr Suraj Gogoi are both holistic psychiatrists and innate health coaches, who don't subscribe to temporary fixes to address the human condition. They disregard the core underlying causes of psychological suffering and feel that the conventional models of managing mental and emotional issues do not help us discover our true wellbeing. Visit Drs. Rani and Suraj at:

#functionalmedicine #mentalillness #wellbeing #mentalhealth #lefthandedness #criminal psychology #DSMLabels #evolutionarypsychology #naturalselection #bipolardisorder

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