All in the Mind

A stone age brain in a 21st century skull

Anxiety and depression probably fit in a category of what we call technically, genome lag, evolutionary models, which mean that we truly have this Stone Age mind that's not responding well to the modern environment. The rising levels of depression, and very high levels of anxiety, many of us think can be attributed to the fact that our brain is working in normal ways but in, if you like, a very stressful environment, an environment that we did not particularly evolve for. A classic example is panic disorder; it's probably the most common disorder out there after phobias. There's a large number of people out there that have such severe panic symptoms that they don't want to leave their houses. To live in a densely populated city with millions of people is literally terrifying for our reptilian brains and probably our mammalian brains as well. So our brains go into shut down mode, they say get out of there, get back home where it's nice and safe, keep away from all these non-family strangers, they're probably dangerous, they might drag you away to another tribe or worse. There's an example of our biology acting as it should have a couple of hundred thousand years ago perhaps.

Listening Activity 1

You will hear part of a radio programme about psychiatry in which the participants discuss the idea that our brain is still adapted to living in stone age societies. For the following questions, complete the sentences with a word or short phrase.

First, read through the text, then listen to the first part of the programme and complete the gaps. Stop when you get to the end of part one; there is a long silence before part 2.

Our genome developed over a [ 1 ] to living in small groups.
In genetic terms, [ 2 ] is an instant.
The environment our brains are adapted for is one which we lived in when India had not [ 3 ] to Asia.
One of the speakers says that trying to treat psychiatric disorders like diabetes is [ 4 ].
The interviewer describes evolutionary psychiatry as [ 5 ].
Daniel Wilson compares the logical brain trying to control the reptilian and earlier mammalian brains to [ 6 ].
Wilson says that the only way to look at the brain in an understandably simple way was to divide it into [ 7 ].
Dinosaurs’ [ 8 ] was the first type of social interaction which evolved beyond sex and violence.
The old limbic system developed about [ 9 ] and mediated [ 10 ].

Listening Activity 2

In the next part of the interview, choose the answer, A, B, C or D which fits best according to what you hear.

  1. Daniel Wilson says that it is clear that manic depression has an evolutionary basis because
    1. it is a useful behaviour pattern
    2. it is passed on from generation to generation
    3. many leaders are manic depressives
    4. manic depressives are the descendants of tribal chiefs.

  2. Wilson believes that
    1. manic depressives are romantic
    2. there are good sides to being manic depressive
    3. manic depression is a disease, like diabetes, which can be treated
    4. manic depressives respond to unbalanced advice

  3. Gary Galambos says that evolutionary psychology
    1. can be over simplistic and reductionistic
    2. is only meant to consider the life history of individuals
    3. can link genetic psychiatric theory with theories relating to the environment.
    4. focuses on genetic abnormalities in the brain

  4. Gary Galambos describes ‘genome lag’ as
    1. the irrational belief that we are going to be kidnapped by another tribe.
    2. a kind of panic disorder
    3. the effect of a previously advantageous behaviour pattern
    4. the failure of the brain to evolve

  5. What advantage does evolutionary psychiatry bring to psycho-therapy according to Galambos?
    1. The need to admit that we are a vulnerable species
    2. It helps us to understand our historical past
    3. It lessens the need to treat people with mental illness
    4. It lessens the sense of isolation people with mental illness may feel

  6. Daniel Wilson believes that psychotherapies based on evolutionary psychology
    1. help people come to terms with their emotion-based problems.
    2. allow people to take emotions out of the limbic system,
    3. help people to live peacefully and understand the reasons for war and conflict.
    4. enable people to vocalise reptilian emotions.

  7. Which of the following is not stated by any of the participants?
    1. Some people think evolutionary psychiatry limits our way of looking at behaviour.
    2. Some people argue that evolutionary psychiatry claims all behaviour patterns are beneficial.
    3. Some people claim that all behaviour patterns evolved through adaptation.
    4. Any idea or theory can be used positively or negatively.