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Narrating the Brain

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Investigating Contrasting Portrayals of the Embodiment of Mental Disorder

image of Journal of Phenomenological Psychology

Public conversation about biological contributors to mental disorder often centers on whether the problem is “biological or not.” In this paper, we propose moving beyond this bifurcation to a very different question: how exactly are these problems understood to be biological? Specifically, we consider four issues around which different interpretations of the body’s relationship to mental disorder exist: 1. The body’s relationship to day-to-day action; 2. The extent to which the body is changeable; 3. The body’s relationship to context; 4. The degree to which states of the body directly cause mental disorder. Drawing on the work of Merleau-Ponty and other phenomenologists, we examine different responses to these questions and associated implications for how mental health treatment and recovery come to be experienced. Finally, we consider broader questions these patterns raise, including why certain portrayals of the brain dominate public attention and how to foster more deliberation in this regard.

Affiliations: 1: All of; 2: Department of Psychology, Brigham Young; 3: College of Social Work, Florida State; 4: Department of Neuroscience, Brown


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