Textbook of Evolutionary Psychiatry: The Origins of Psychopathology

May 28, 2009

Author: Martin Brune

Edition: First

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 380

Price: £32.95

ISBN 9780199207688

The author of this book has attempted an ambitious and comprehensive integration of mainstream psychopathology and evolutionary theory. He has organised his material into three parts. The first provides background reviews of evolutionary psychology, genetics, neuroscience, the human lifespan and psychiatric assessment. The second focuses on nine different types of psychiatric disorder (autism, ADHD, dementia, substance abuse, psychosis, affective, anxiety, eating and personality disorders). The final section deals with three special topics: suicide, forensic psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Both a strength and a weakness of this book is that it tries to be all things to all readers. Brune therefore assumes not only very little prior understanding of evolution, the human brain or psychology, but also little previous knowledge of psychiatry. Hence, his chapter on psychiatric assessment amounts to little more than a list of symptoms with accompanying definitions.

A negative consequence of this approach is that he has had to pack an enormous amount of information into the space available, and some of his summaries are so brief as to be almost telegraphic. To take one example, a one-paragraph explanation of genomic imprinting left me no wiser. To take another, although the research findings on autism and theory of mind appear to be accurately reported, this is done with such brevity that I would probably have struggled had I not encountered this material before.

This difficulty is compounded by the fact that there are no references embedded in the text and, instead, a list of selected further reading is provided at the end of each chapter with no indication of how they relate to the preceding content. The reader wishing to learn more is therefore left with almost no clue about where to go for further information.

The central section is the most disappointing, partly because much of the material on the symptomatology, diagnostic criteria and epidemiology of the various disorders will already be well known to most of those who are likely to read this book, but also because it is conventionally organised around diagnostic categories. Nonetheless, the sections that attempt to provide evolutionary syntheses contain some interesting insights that may be a good starting point for psychopathologists or clinicians wishing to acquaint themselves with an evolutionary approach for the first time.

Students searching for an introduction to evolutionary approaches in psychiatry will probably find that this book's limitations outweigh its advantages. Nonetheless, it could provide a useful supporting text for a course on evolutionary psychiatry, alongside other material.

Who is it for? Targeted at medical students, students of psychiatry and unihealth practitioners.

Presentation: Mostly clear but complex material is covered too briefly and is poorly referenced.

Would you recommend it? Perhaps as a supplementary text for mental health students or professionals interested in exploring evolutionary ideas.

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