I think I experienced first hand dismissal of psychology

As Natasha, Sharonda, and Jenn would know… today we witnessed the view of psychology from the biological point of view.  We are all in Advanced Neurobiology together. Speaking for myself, as  a psychology major, I was experiencing some difficulty with the articles the professor was assigning because of their heavy biological and neuroscience background that I lack. Jenn and I went to talk to the professor last week and he was open to reading a psychology paper in class. Jenn sent him one on the regeneration of neurons in the hippocampus relating to depression and other mental illnesses.

I read the paper without a problem, much unlike the previous paper where I didn’t know what every other sentence was saying. The class began with a review of neuron repair, regeneration, and neurogenesis. It was very neurological, which I was ok with being that it is a Neurobiology class, but when we got to discussing the paper I experienced something completely different from my psychology classes.

I found the professor was doubtful of the way depression was described and how antidepressants worked. He seemed to be skeptical about the role the brain/hippocampus in mental illnesses. He seemed to believe that antidepressants would lead to tumors in the future and the use of antidepressants would be a thing of the past. I was surprised at this conclusion because I see no empirical evidence supporting the thought that antidepressants will lead to tumors. In a study by Lin Jia and colleagues they found,

“CONCLUSION: Mirtazapine and fluoxetine have no effect on the growth of pancreatic tumor. However, mirtazapine can significantly increase food intake and improve nutrition compared with fluoxetine in a pancreatic cancer mouse model.”

The professor also discussed the fact that maybe neurogenesis isn’t the reason antidepressants are effective but rather antidepressants may affect the ratio of cell death and generation. I feel like I was exposed to the biological view of depression and not the psychological approach or even sociological approach. From a neurological perspective depression seemed to be a less than valid illness. Although there have been huge leaps in progress of discovering the biological source of depression biology doesn’t seem to share this knowledge. Even when the psychology point was brought up in class the professor still didn’t seem to acknowledge the other point of view.

I don’t want to discredit my Advanced Neurobiology professor but I wanted to express how it felt to be a psychology major in a biology class. I felt like I was experiencing the brain vs behavior conflict from the opposite perspective. It was strange because for so long I have experienced the other side of the debate. This real life situation was somewhat comical to me, just because I feel like all the psychology majors sit in one corner and we were vastly outnumbered by biology majors.

References:

Jia, L., Shang, Y., & Li, Y. (2008). Effects of antidepressants on body weight, ethology and tumor growth of human pancreatic carcinoma xenografts in nude mice. World J Gastroenterol, 14(27), 4377-4382.

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6 thoughts on “I think I experienced first hand dismissal of psychology

  1. I’m really glad you chose to talk about our experience in class as your post. I think it is a great example of the main problem that the field faces: the fact that there are some facets brushing off the legitimacy of others. There is certainly a huge disparity in the class–all of the psych majors definitely sit in one corner (literally) while the bio majors kind of surround us with all their molecular and genetic backgrounds, to our developmental and psychological ones. A big difference that I think is most troubling to me, is the fact that the bio aspects are so coveted, but the psychological are easily dismissed, or thought to be frivolous, or just an attempt at correlating; with no acknowledgement of the extensive background looking at the effects of neurogenesis as it relates to psychological disorders. (also, it appears as though there are ‘thousands’ of types of depression….). I feel as though we tend to give a lot of credit to the ‘biology’ side of the debate when we discuss in class, without favoring one heavily over the other. We’re pretty even-handed, and critically evaluate both the biological and the psychological in order to obtain a better understanding of big picture (at least that’s what I think). I just wish that biology made more of an effort to understand the whole picture.

    Proteins and neuronal processes cannot tell us much about humanity if they are void of context.

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  2. I cannot agree more Jenn. It’s pretty unfortunate that this is how it goes. I had a similar experience with someone in my Animal Behaviour class today where I cited something in my paper APA style by mistake and this other student/bio major ‘jokingly’ was like- oh god you guys do it the “dirty way” (whatever that meant!??!) “We in biology always make fun of you Psych people”! It is true that we over in psych do make a greater effort to integrate the fields and reconcile controversies, unlike those who stick to extremes of their own argument. I’ve always believed, any argument to an extreme tends to lose its credibility and is reduced to obnoxious arrogance.
    When people get fixated in the nuances of the cellular world- the bigger picture if often lost. What’s the point then?

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  3. Thank you so much for pointing this out, Jessie. I was so heated! One can doubt the rationale behind antidepressants and neurogenesis but mocking Scientists who believe it is unfair. I could not even speak up to defend psychology because professor-student dynamics are ridiculous. I openly admit that I care a lot about biology. But it is stupid to only look at the biological basis of a disorder/disease. Behavior matters. In my opinion, psychologists keep the biologists in check. Period. End of discussion.

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  4. The link between antidepressants and tumorgenesis is worth talking about. A similar problem is the issue behind transplanting stem cells. Scientists have seen that embryonic stem cells can rapidly divide and differentiate into cells from all three germ layers. So, if undifferentiated stem cells are placed into the striatum, they can eventually differentiate into teeth, skin and nails. Gross! Anyway, if we go around increasing neurogenesis in the SGZ or SVZ, how can we say for certain that the cells won’t start proliferating uncontrollably in the long run? What if this uncontrolled proliferation turns on oncogenes?

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  5. Jessie! I’m so glad that you decided to write about this for your journal entry. i tend to understand the biological side, but what I found most frustrating in this class was that our professor wasn’t acknowledging all the research and literature that has been published about neurogenesis and depression. I understand how stem cells can uncontrollably proliferate and therefore become cancerous (as Sharonda mentioned above), but when I went to go talk to him privately he mentioned how antidepressants could supposedly cause cancerous tumors because they promote neurogenesis. At first I was wrong in thinking that this wasn’t possible, so I did a little research and couldn’t find anything on how antidepressants could cause tumors. Furthermore, I don’t think they would be as widely used as they are if they COULD cause tumors. I just think it’s funny that sometimes the biologists can make reductionist conclusions like that. Obviously it’s a thing to be worried about, as tumors growing in your brain aren’t the best things in the world, but how can they draw these conclusions if that hasn’t really happened yet?

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  6. This is an issue I’ve personally wrestled with. I’m sincerely interested in the human mind, both as an organ and an entity; it’s fascinating that something so ethereal as “emotion” is biologically generated. However, how does one even describe the study of such a connection? Neuroscience? Neuropsychology? Biological psychology? Behavioral neurobiology? Behavior neuroscience? Bio basis of behavior? There is an obvious lack of consensus concerning the true relationship between biology and psychology. Even here at Colby College, the fact that there are separate neuroscience concentrations in the biology and psychology departments only reflects the divide. I find it frustrating and confusing that there is so little cohesion. Which perspective is more valuable? I don’t think there is a clear answer. May I suggest the development of a Neuroscience Department?? Both psychological and biological perspectives must be examined with equal attention, simultaneously, in order to establish any meaningful conclusions.

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