Psychopathology is defined as the study of any significant behavioral or psychological syndrome that impairs an individual's daily functioning in society. The current dialogue among doctors and researchers treating mental disorders explores the intersection of genetics and environment in major mental illnesses.
In their study of schizophrenia, a psychotic breakdown of integrated personality functioning, Drs. Irving Gottesman and E. Fuller Torrey conducted an ongoing study of 60 sets of identical twins. In 30 sets, one twin had schizophrenia, and the other did not. In 20 sets, both twins had schizophrenia. The remaining 10 sets of twins served as a control group for normal brain functioning; neither had schizophrenia.
Drs. Gottesman and Torrey conducted in-depth interviews with all the twins and their parents. Then the twins underwent a series of tests in an effort to determine the causes of schizophrenia. In one test, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and SPECT analysis were used to measure the flow of blood to specific parts of the brain during a variety of problem-solving activities.
The results revealed differences betweeb the brains of twins with schizophrenia and those without schizophrenia. In the brains of twins with schizophrenia, the ventricles carrying fluids in the brain were bigger, indicating a loss of brain tissue and an altering of the brain structure.
This research provided evidence of the biological component of schizophrenia. Other factors that may contribute to schizophrenia are more environmental, including concussions, drug use, or severe viruses. Psychosocial stresses may be implicated as well. This interactionist perspective in Drs. Gottesman and Torrey's study expands the traditional methods of identifying and treating mental illness.
Dr. Gottesman has an extensive Web site at the University of Virginia with articles and book excerpts.