Neurobiology and Schizophrenia: “The Elusive Correlation”


Despite developments in neuroscience that provide “a way to study schizophrenia in vivo … efforts to understand the neurobiological bases of the clinical symptoms that the diagnosis is based on have been largely unsuccessful.” Small samples, questionable reliability and validity of measurements, medication confounds, failure to distinguish state and trait effects, correlation-causation ambiguity, and the absence of compelling animal models are among the obstacles to finding “the elusive correlation” between neurobiology and symptoms, according to this article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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Mathalon, D; Ford, J; “Neurobiology of Schizophrenia: Search for the Elusive Correlation with Symptoms.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012; 6:136. online May 25, 2012


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. What? How can this be? We’ve been told for years that we’re on the cusp of great discoveries! Thomas Insel himself touts genetics as the future for understanding mental illness ( he also admitted that theories based on chemical imbalances were far to simplistic and reductionistic…about 50 years too late).

    I know this is a small thing, but I’m just not convinced that studying the brains of rats or mice will shed any light on the human suffering, trauma, love, disappointment, etc.

    I know mice get stressed when someone moves their cheese but come one!

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    • I know, truly shocking! And it seems only a few years ago we were told that it turns out that schizophrenia is 70% genetic and 30% down to environment – and in such confident tones.

      What is a boy to make of all this?

      I hear that there is going to be another huge sum put into researching the genetics of mental illness though, so maybe everything will turn out all right in the long run? (huge English Irony alert by the way).

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  2. January Schofield is probably the best neurobiological case of her condition. There is no doubt that she was born as she is.

    When I look at pictures of Jani, her eyes and frazzled hair make me think she’s got some sort of serious malnutrition or other deficiency or deprivation.

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