Biological Construal of Mental Disorders

Mental illnesses are increasingly described as disorders of the brain, caused by biological factors, such as chemical imbalances or genes. While such portrayals can reduce the extent to which mentally ill people are blamed for their condition, biomedical accounts of mental illness can be associated with pessimism about prognoses (Lebowitz, Ahn, & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2013) as well as a greater desire to distance oneself from people with a mental illness (Lebowitz, Pyun, & Ahn, 2014). The references listed below exemplifies empirical demonstrations of such negative effects. In our ongoing research, we find that similar negative effects are present among practicing clinicians as well (Lebowitz & Ahn, under review). We also investigate effects of learning about one’s genetic susceptibility for depression and develop intervention plans to combat any negative effects (Lebowitz & Ahn, in preparation). This line of research was funded by National Geonome Research Institute (NHGRI/NIH) and is currently funded by the Reboot Foundation


Lebowitz, M. S., Pyun, J., & Ahn, W. (2014). Effects of biological explanations for generalized anxiety disorder. Psychiatric Services, 65, 498-503. doi: 10.1176/ PDF

Lebowitz, M. S., Ahn, W., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2013). Fixable or fate? Perception of the biology of depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81, 518-527. PDF