Our Frontiers article on the network theory of psychiatric disorder

The Network Theory of Psychiatric Disorders: A Critical Assessment of the Inclusion of Environmental Factors

  • 1Department of Philosophy, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • 2Department of Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 3Department of Anatomy and Neurosciences, Amsterdam University Medical Centers (Location VUmc), Amsterdam, Netherlands

Borsboom and colleagues have recently proposed a “network theory” of psychiatric disorders that conceptualizes psychiatric disorders as relatively stable networks of causally interacting symptoms. They have also claimed that the network theory should include non-symptom variables such as environmental factors. How are environmental factors incorporated in the network theory, and what kind of explanations of psychiatric disorders can such an “extended” network theory provide? The aim of this article is to critically examine what explanatory strategies the network theory that includes both symptoms and environmental factors can accommodate. We first analyze how proponents of the network theory conceptualize the relations between symptoms and between symptoms and environmental factors. Their claims suggest that the network theory could provide insight into the causal mechanisms underlying psychiatric disorders. We assess these claims in light of network analysis, Woodward’s interventionist theory, and mechanistic explanation, and show that they can only be satisfied with additional assumptions and requirements. Then, we examine their claim that network characteristics may explain the dynamics of psychiatric disorders by means of a topological explanatory strategy. We argue that the network theory could accommodate topological explanations of symptom networks, but we also point out that this poses some difficulties. Finally, we suggest that a multilayer network account of psychiatric disorders might allow for the integration of symptoms and non-symptom factors related to psychiatric disorders and could accommodate both causal/mechanistic and topological explanations.




Filosofie en de Psyche 25-30 september

Stemmings- en angststoornissen, verslaving, schizofrenie, persoonlijkheids- stoornissen… Met dank aan spannend neurobiologisch onderzoek, farmacologie, genetica en neuro-imaging weten we er heel veel van. Toch zijn hier lang niet alle beloften waargemaakt. En hoewel er ook in grote lijnen overeenstemming is over nosologie en classificatie blijven belangrijke vragen liggen.

Tijdens de nascholingsweek die plaatsvindt van 25 tot en met 30 september 2016 in Funchal op Madeira is het uitgangspunt de vraag of wijsgerige reflectie heeft plaatsgemaakt voor louter pragmatisch handelen. Of er in de alledaagse klinische praktijk wel voldoende aandacht is voor filosofisch descriptief denken, voor aandacht voor de subjectieve beleving. Wordt in zijn algemeenheid nog wel voldoende erkend dat complexiteit het wezenskenmerk is van het vak? De nascholing heeft nadrukkelijk als doel filosofie en praktijk te verbinden. Tijdens de cursus is er bij plenaire presentaties en workshops ruimschoots gelegenheid om met de vier sprekers en uw collega’s te reflecteren op vragen uit de dagelijkse behandelpraktijk.

Vier spekers, vier hoofdthema’s:

Mind & brain Leon de Bruin
Human enhancement Maartje Schermer
Ethiek Gerben Meynen
Fenomenologie Alan Ralston


‘Philosophy of Mind, Brain & Behavior’ is now available


Our book is available here

“How can it possibly be the case that electrical activity in the soggy grey substance of our brains is responsible for our thoughts, our conscious experiences and our subjectivity? What is subjectivity, for that matter? Does it require a ‘self’, or a subject of experience? Is free will a possibility when all we think and do emerges from the physical brain? These are prototypical questions that characterize the philosophy of mind, brain and behaviour that we shall introduce in this book.

Many of the problems and theories discussed in this book fall under what is traditionally known as analytical philosophy of mind, such as the mind-body problem, mental causation, mental content and consciousness. The range of this book, however, is wider, and includes other themes that are directly connected with the bigger issue of what it is that makes us human beings or persons. These topics are ‘the self’, ‘free will’, ‘understanding other minds’, ‘embodied, embedded cognition’ and ‘emotions’.”

Psychiatry Beyond Scientism, January 22-24, 2015

Psychiatry Beyond Scientism, January 22-24, 2015
Abraham Kuyper Center, VU Amsterdam

This international three-day conference investigates the role and nature of knowledge in psychiatry, both as a scientific discipline and as a professional practice. It aims to create a platform for an in-depth philosophical discussion on different forms of theoretical knowledge (e.g. statistical, molecular, genetic, psychological, social) and their interrelatedness, what happens when these forms of knowledge are applied in psychiatric practice, and how they are translated to and received by the general public.

In general terms, scientism is the claim that only science can provide us with knowledge about ourselves and the world around us. In the context ofpsychiatry, this manifests itself most clearly in the tension between theoretical knowledge acquired in a scientific setting and practical knowledge applied to the concrete cases in the consultation room. The aim of the conference is to investigate this tension, and explore how scientific knowledge can be integrated with other sources of knowledge, such as practical understanding, expertise, experience, intuition and wisdom.

Confirmed speakers:

  • John Campbell (UC Berkeley)
  • Bill Fulford (University of Oxford)
  • John Sadler (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center)
  • Mona Gupta (Université de Montréal)
  • Marc Lewis (Radboud University)
  • Gerrit Glas (VU University/Dimence)
  • Erik Rietveld (University of Amsterdam)
  • Denny Borsboom (University of Amsterdam)
  • Gerben Meynen (Tilburg University)
  • Leon de Bruin (VU University/Radboud University)
  • Derek Strijbos (Radboud University)

Workshop Causal Explanation in Psychiatry – Preliminary Program

9.45- 10.00  Opening (Annemarie Kalis & Derek Strijbos)
10.00-10.45  Shaun Gallagher: “Relations between agency and ownership in the case of schizophrenic thought insertion.”
10.45-11.30  Leo Schilbach: “Second-person neuroscience: Implications for psychiatry”
11.30-11.45  break
11.45-12.30  Denny Borsboom: “Farewell to reductionism: Network modeling as a holistic research strategy”
12.30-13.15  Victor Gijsbers: “What is explanatory pluralism,and why should we embrace it?”
13.15-14.15  lunch
14.15-15.00  Tim Thornton: “Anti-reductionist normativism: a price worth paying”
15.00-15.45  Jan-Willem Romeijn / Hanna van Loo: “Comorbidity: fact or artifact?”
15.45-16.00  break
16.00-16.45  William Bechtel: “Circadian Rhythms and Depression: Seeking Links Between Mechanisms”
16.45-17.00  Closing (Gerrit Glas & Leon de Bruin)
17.00 > drinks