Brain in Trouble


Course Objective

The goal of this course is to deepen understanding of the etiology,
expression and treatment of (psychiatric) brain disorders, as well as
models used in preclinical science. Students will be encouraged to
critically analyze the impact of brain disorders on society.

Learning outcomes:

After completion of this course, the student is able to:
1) Explain the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to
complex multifactorial diseases such as mental disorders
2) Elaborate on the etiology of addiction, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive
disorder, eating disorders, mood disorders and anti-social personality
3) Elaborate on the various treatment options for psychiatric disorders
4) Explain gene-environment interactions and discuss some examples
5) Elaborate on the differential role of the environment in the etiology
of traits / disorders according to the ‘differential-susceptibility
6) Critically reflect on the impact of mental disorders on society
7) Critically reflect on the boundaries between normal (healthy) and
abnormal (ill) behavior and the implications for society
8) Verbally defend a position on the various topics of this course
(class discussions, ACADEMIC SKILL)

Course Content

The focus of this course is on the etiology of mental disorders, such as
addiction, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, mood
disorders and anti-social personality disorder, with special attention
to the nature-nurture discussion. Various treatments options for these
conditions will be discussed, including the use of pharmacological
agents, behavioral therapy and deep brain stimulation. Students will be
challenged to critically reflect on the boundaries between normality and
abnormality and the implications for society.

First Theme: addiction and impulsivity

What is addiction? Is addiction truly a brain disorder? Do genes play a
role in addiction? How does society view illicit drug use and addiction?
Are all drugs equally harmful? How to treat addiction? Is ADHD a real
mental disorder, or a cultural construct used to bring deviant or
socially undesirable behavior under medical surveillance and control? Is
it a good idea to treat children who have been diagnosed ADHD, with
psychostimulant medications? What is the role of pharmaceutical
companies? Do sugar and food additives elicit hyperactive behavior? Are
there any advantages in having ADHD?

Second Theme: obsessive compulsive disorders, eating disorders and
cognitive enhancement

Can you treat OCD with Deep Brain Stimulation? Is our Western beauty
ideal at the root of eating disorders? Is the individual to blame for
being obese? Is it ethical to improve your mental performance by
cognitive enhancers?

Third Theme: mood disorders & social behaviours

Is depression a real brain disorder or an inability of our culture to
accept sadness as an integral part of life? Do genes play a role in the
etiology of major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder? What is the
efficacy of pharmacotherapy and behavioral therapy? What is the role of
pharmaceutical companies?
Is there a neural basis to antisocial behavior? If biology and
circumstance conspire to prime certain individuals toward violence, how
much responsibility do people really bear for their actions? Are violent
delinquents worth treating? Should brain imaging / genetic profiling be
used in legal cases? Can neuroscience assist in determining
responsibility? If neural circuitry underlying morality is compromised,
is it morally wrong to punish prisoners? Are there positive aspects to
psychiatric disorders?

Teaching Methods

Lectures (30 hours), computer practical (2 hours), homework assignments
(6 hours), class discussions (2 hours)

Course coordinators are Hylke Vervaeke and Taco de Vries

Method of Assessment

Written exam (combination of MC-questions and open-end questions) (75%)
and class discussions/assignments (25%), each at least grade 5.5.


"Foundations Of Behavioral Neuroscience" by N.R. Carlson (Pearson
Education (US)), 8th edition.

Extra literature on Canvas

Target Audience

Part of minor Brain and Mind
Open to students from all educational backgrounds (e.g., exact, social,
life and economic sciences) with an interest in the brain and mind.

Additional Information

Central Academic Skill: Debating and discussing

Custom Course Registration

Groups for Class Discussions and Home-work Assignments via Canvas

Recommended background knowledge

The courses 'Cognitive Neuroscience' and 'Nature vs. Nurture' from the
minor 'Brain & Mind'

General Information

Course Code AB_1038
Credits 6 EC
Period P2
Course Level 300
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator dr. H.K.E. Vervaeke
Examiner dr. H.K.E. Vervaeke
Teaching Staff R. Garritsen BA BSc
dr. H.K.E. Vervaeke
prof. dr. S. Spijker
prof. dr. T.J. de Vries

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Computer lab, Study Group, Lecture