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IMB Seminar: Woo-kyoung Ahn

Friday, December 8, 2017 - 12:00pm

SAIL Room, 111 Levin Building (425 S. University Ave.)

Woo-kyoung Ahn
Department of Psychology
Yale University

Effects of Biological Explanations for Mental Disorders

Mental disorders are common with lifetime prevalence rates approaching 50% in the United States. In the fight against these widespread and disabling conditions, mental disorders are increasingly understood in terms of biological mechanisms (e.g., through genetics and neuroscience). However, we discovered a number of unintended negative consequences of construing mental disorders in terms of biological mechanisms. (1) Among practicing clinicians, biological explanations, compared to psychosocial explanations, evoked significantly less empathy towards people with mental disorders. (2) Individuals with depressive symptoms were more pessimistic about their recovery and felt less control over mood regulation, the more they attribute their depression to biochemical and genetic factors. (3) After receiving randomly determined genetic feedback from a test disguised as genetic screening*, participants who were told that their genes predisposed them to depression reported higher levels of depressive symptomatology over the previous 2 weeks, compared to those who did not receive this feedback. (4) After conducting a saliva test disguised as genetic screening for obesity*, participants who were told that they were not genetically predisposed to obesity significantly downplayed the efficacy of a healthy diet and exercise habits, and also were also more likely to select unhealthy foods than did those who did not receive any genetic feedback. Possible intervention strategies are also considered. (*Ethical issues concerning the use of tests disguised as genetic screening were carefully addressed.)

The talk will begin at 12pm. A pizza lunch will be served at 11:45am.