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Integrated Approach to the Origin of Mental Disorders: Biology, Person and Environment

Code: 43880 ECTS Credits: 6
Degree Type Year Semester
4316222 Research in Clinical Psychology and Health OT 0 1


Neus Vidal Barrantes

Teaching groups languages

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Lorena Chanes Puiggros
Sergi Ballespí Sola


It is advisable to have previously studied psychopathology courses.

Objectives and Contextualisation

The overall objective of this module is to provide an integrated view of causality in psychopathology, considering the interaction of genetic, biological, social and person factors. It aims to cover an aspect that is rarely addressed in undergraduate courses: the integration of knowledge that comes from different disciplines (genetics, neurosciences, epidemiology, basic, evolutionary, clinical and social psychology, etc.) in relation to the origin of mental disorders.


One of the fundamental gaps in psychopathology is over-fragmentation. However, it is increasingly evident that mental disorders can only be explained by complex approaches. This module aims to make an integrative journey by placing the focus of attention on two aspects that still receive little attention in psychopathology. Beyond the presentation of risk factors, it is sought to deepen (1) into the interaction between genetic-biological, person and sociocultural factors, since this interaction is, in itself, a causal agent that transcends the presence of risk factors separately; and (2) the psychological mechanisms that mediate or translate the effect of risk factors into a state of vulnerability or resilience to disorders.


Although psychoses and affective disorders will be taken as fundamental examples, this integrative approach is carried out from a transversal perspective, providing a conceptual framework of knowledge in psychopathology applicable to the origin of any mental disorder. In addition, these new concepts are very useful for clinical case formulation, and profoundly affect our understanding of psychological treatments.


  • Analyze critically the most current theories, models and methods of psychological research in the field of clinical and health psychology.
  • Analyze data and interpret results on research in clinical and health psychology.
  • Discuss the results the results on clinical and health psychology research, and contrast them with existing scientific literature and draw conclusions and practical applications.
  • Integrate knowledge and use it to make judgements in complex situations, with incomplete information, while keeping in mind social and ethical responsibilities.
  • Search for information in scientific literature using appropriate channels and integrate such information to propose and contextualize a research topic.
  • Use acquired knowledge as a basis for originality in the application of ideas, often in a research context.
  • Use scientific terminology to argue the results of research in the context of scientific production, to understand and interact effectively with other professionals.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Analyse and understand different risk factors.
  2. Contrast the results of the research based on the biological-environment interaction with those that only contemplate one of those factors.
  3. Integrate knowledge and use it to make judgements in complex situations, with incomplete information, while keeping in mind social and ethical responsibilities.
  4. Interpret the genetic-environmental interaction in a scientific article.
  5. Recognise the main etiological influences of psychological disorders.
  6. Search for information in scientific literature using appropriate channels and integrate such information to propose and contextualize a research topic.
  7. Use acquired knowledge as a basis for originality in the application of ideas, often in a research context.
  8. Use scientific terminology to argue the results of research in the context of scientific production, to understand and interact effectively with other professionals.


The module will train the student in the fundamental concepts of the field of study of causation (etiology) in mental disorders, ranging from gene-environment interaction (Ecogenetics) to psychological mechanisms. These are some of the most prominent clinical and research questions that will be addressed:


◊ Reconceptualization of phenotypes: are mental disorders really diseases? Redefinition of psychopathological disorders as networks of symptoms that derive from complex interactions. Examples: the affective and psychotic spectra.


◊ Reconceptualization of the concept of ‘genetic basis of mental disorders’: The genetics of mental disorders is the genetics of sensitivity to the environment.


◊ Reconceptualization of biological bases: Top-down models of environmental influence on brain development.


◊ Reconceptualization of the environment and its measurement: From the "big data" of epidemiology to the "scientific" measurement of daily life and personal relationships.


◊ Key ‘person’ mediating factors: Temperament, affective attachment, cognitive schemas.


◊ Gene-brain, environment and person interaction: From the concept of "risk" to "differential sensitivity to the environment".


◊ Impact of these new concepts on clinical formulation and psychological treatments.


The contents will be presented by the instructors in the form of seminars, where they will present not only topical information, but also an analysis of the ideological-theoretical background underlying very different approaches applied to the same research questions. It will be promoted and expected that students have a great degree of participation during the seminars. This will enable them to learn how to formulate questions and reasoned arguments on complex subjects of great novelty. Each of the students will be asked to do "mental experiments" to promote the transfer of concepts worked in class to the specific field of their interest (usually the one on which the research work is done). One of the most important aspects will be the work of reflective criticism on the data and conclusions presented to the students. Finally, each student will perform a critical essay on which s/he will have supervision.

Annotation: Within the schedule set by the centre or degree programme, 15 minutes of one class will be reserved for students to evaluate their lecturers and their courses or modules through questionnaires.


Title Hours ECTS Learning Outcomes
Type: Directed      
Class discussions 10 0.4 4, 3, 8
Presentation of topics and research 27.5 1.1 1, 2, 4, 5, 7
Type: Supervised      
Supervision meetings of the written essay and presentation 7.5 0.3 6, 4, 3, 8
Type: Autonomous      
Elaboration of the critical essay 40 1.6 2, 4, 3, 7, 8
Preparation and performance of the oral presentation 20 0.8 2, 8
Reading and studying 35 1.4 1, 2, 3, 7
Search of relevant scientific information 10 0.4 6


The main activity is the elaboration of a critical scientific essay, not a mere review of the literature in a given field.

The goal is to write an essay on a specific scientific question in the field of the module (test of maximum 4 faces to double space plus a sheet of references) and presentation in class. It does not need to be on a specific psychological disorder, given that the focus is the application of the conceptual framework of an integrated approach to the understanding of mental phenomena. The following parameters will be evaluated:

 o Proving that the student has reviewed relevant information from different sources (bibliographies, databases, etc).

o Being able to integrate literature that addresses variables from different areas/levels of complexity (e.g., genetic, psychosocial).

o The bility to respond to the scientific question posed, to analyse pros and cons of different approaches in the field and different ideologies underlying research, and to obtain sound conclusions.

o The ability to synthesize complex information with clarity and express complex ideas and a discourse in the written and oral presentation.

Grading criteria

It is compulsory to attend 90% of sessions.

It is compulsory to follow the continous assessment procedure (the single assessment option is not available).

If the student fails the subject, it is possible to be reevaluated if:

a. Not meeting the 'pass criteria'

b. Having been assessed on a total of activities weighting two thirds of the total grading of the subject.

A student who has delivered the tests with a weight of 4 or more points (40%) cannot be considered as 'not possible to be evaluated'.

The document describing grading criteria at the Faculty of Psychology is available at: https://www.uab.cat/doc/DOC_Pautes_Avaluacio_2022_2023

Assessment Activities

Title Weighting Hours ECTS Learning Outcomes
EV1. Attendance (minimum 90%) and quality of active participation in class 10% 0 0 1, 6, 2, 4, 3, 5, 7, 8
EV2. Elaboration of a scientific essay. Submit on week 17th 50% 0 0 6, 4, 3, 7, 8
EV3. Oral presentation of the scientific essay. Week 19th 40% 0 0 7, 8


Barrantes-Vidal, N., Grant, P., Kwapil, T.R. (2015). The role of schizotypy in the study of the etiology of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 41 (suppl. 2), S408-S416.


Dick, D.M. (2011). Gene-environment interaction in psychological traits and disorders. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 7, 383-409.


Duncan, L.E. & Keller, M.C. (2011). A critical review of the first 10 years of candidate gene-by-environment interaction research in psychiatry. American Journal of Psychiatry, 168, 1041-9.


Guloksuz, S., van Os, J., Rutten, B.P.F. (2018). The Exposome Paradigm and the Complexities of Environmental Research in Psychiatry. JAMA Psychiatry, Jun 6.


Jaffee, S.R. (2017). Child Maltreatment and Risk for Psychopathology in Childhood and Adulthood. Annual Review of Clinical Psycholology, 13, 525-551.


Moffitt, T.E., Caspi, A. & Rutter, M. (2005). Strategy for investigating interactions between measured genes and measured environments. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 473-481.


Reiss, D., Leve, L.D. & Neiderhiser, J.M. (2013). How genes and the social environment moderate each other. American Journal of Public Health, 103 (Suppl. 1), S111-21.


van Os, J., Kenis, G., & Rutten, B.P. (2010). The environment and schizophrenia. Nature, 468(7321), 203-212.


van Os, J., Rutten, B.P., & Poulton, R. (2008). Gene-environment interactions in schizophrenia: review of epidemiological findings and future directions. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 34, 1066-1082.




Barrantes-Vidal, N. (2014). Trauma and psychosis: Is it easier to study quarks than subjective meaning? Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 129, 478-479.


Barrantes-Vidal, N., Chun, C., Myin-Germeys, I., & Kwapil, T.R. (2013). Psychometric schizotypy predicts the experience of psychotic-like, paranoid, and negative symptom experiences in daily life. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122, 1077-87.


Brendgen, M., Vitaro, F., Bukowski, W.M., Dionne, G., Tremblay, R.E. & Boivin, M. (2013). Can friends protect genetically vulnerable children from depression? Developmental Psychopathology, 25, 277-289.


Cristóbal-Narváez, P., Sheinbaum, T., Rosa, A., Ballespí, S., de Castro-Català, M., Peña, E., Mitjavila, M., Kwapil, T.R. & Barrantes-Vidal, N. (2016). The interaction between childhood bullying and the fkbp5 gene on psychotic-like experiences and stress reactivity in real life. PLoS One, Jul 7, 11(7):e0158809.


Cristóbal-Narváez, P., Sheinbaum, T., Ballespí, S., Mitjavila, M., Myin-Germeys, I., Kwapil, Mitjavila, M., T.R., Barrantes-Vidal, N. (2016). Impact of adverse childhood experiences on psychotic-like symptoms and stress reactivity in daily life in nonclinical young adults. PLoS One, Apr 15;11(4):e0153557.


European Network of National Networks studying Schizophrenia Gene-Environment Interactions in Schizophrenia (EU-GEI). (2014). Identifying gene-environment interactions in schizophrenia: contemporary challenges for integrated, large-scale investigations. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 40, 729-736.


Holmes, J. (2012). Psychodynamic psychiatry's green shoots. British Journal of Psychiatry, 200, 439-441.


Kendler, K.S. (2005). Toward a philosophical structure for psychiatry. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 433-440.


Kwapil, T.R., & Barrantes-Vidal, N. (2015). Schizotypy: Looking Back and Moving Forward. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 41 (suppl. 2), S366-S373.


Kwapil, T.R. & Barrantes-Vidal, N. (2012). Schizotypal personality disorder: An integrative review (pp. 437-477). In: T.A. Widiger (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders. New York, NY: Oxford University Press (ISBN: 978-0-19-973501-3).


Pishva, E., Kenis, G., van den Hove, D., Lesch, K.P., Boks, M.P., van Os, J. & Rutten, B.P. (2014). The epigenome and postnatal environmental influences in psychotic disorders. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 49, 337-48.


van Os, J., Delespaul, P., Wigman, J., Myin-Germeys, I. & Wichers, M. (2013). Beyond DSM and ICD: introducing "precision diagnosis" for psychiatry using momentary assessment technology. World Psychiatry, 12, 113-117.


Wermter, A.K., Laucht, M., Schimmelmann, B.G., Banaschweski, T., Sonuga-Barke, E.J., Rietschel, M., Becker, K. (2010). From nature versus nurture, via nature and nurture, to gene x environment interaction in mental disorders. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 19, 199-210.


Wolf, C. & Linden, D.E. (2012). Biological pathways to adaptability--interactions between genome, epigenome, nervous system and environment for adaptive behavior. Genes, Brain and Behaviour, 11, 3-28.


Zwicker, A., Denovan-Wright, E.M., Uher, R. (2018). Gene-environment interplay in the etiology of psychosis. Psycholological Medicine, 15, 1-12.


Not applicable.