Topic 5 

Brain disorders and mental dysfunction

One way to understand the function of an entity is to study its dysfunction. For this reason, the topic of brain disorders and mental dysfunction is a core element of the Berlin School of Mind and Brain. It has long been recognized that direct effects on the brain can result in altered mental functions.

Only recently, however, has it been widely acknowledged that psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, addiction, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) also can be understood as brain disorders. The rise of cognitive neuroscience as well as methodological developments in brain imaging and stimulation have contributed significantly to this insight and provide food for thought in philosophy. For example, blindsight and anosognosia have stirred discussions on theories of conciousness; addiction is used as a prime example in the discussion of free will and self-control; theories of agency have been strongly influenced by research on schizophrenia; and recent neurobiological research on psychopathy has become a challenge for philosophical theories of responsibility.

Much controversy continues, however, about the relevance of brain-based approaches to the human mind. Reductionists claim that mental disorders are nothing more than brain disorders, whereas others deem the discovery of neural correlates of mental dysfunction as rather unspectacular. This discussion is mirrored in the philosophical debate on the mind–brain problem and in the philosophy of science. Like thought experiments, neuropsychiatric disorders may serve as intuition pumps: They stimulate new insights and inspirations and, moreover, are challenging explananda for any general theory of mind.

In the past ten years the field of neurology and psychiatry has expanded greatly in Berlin with major new project grants and recent appointments fitting exactly into the field of the School. The Berlin environment in neuropsychiatry research is particularly well suited for studying brain disorders and mental dysfunction because of the vicinity of and close interaction with the Charité University Medical School. Actively involved in the Berlin School of Mind and Brain are researchers in the field of reward, addiction, and schizophrenia (Andreas Heinz), affective disorders (Felix Bermpohl), anxiety (Andreas Ströhle) and psychiatric disease patterns (e.g., ego-disturbances) (Martin Voss). Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders (Andrea Kühn, Fabian Klostermann) and dementia (Isabella Heuser) are represented by large research groups. Furthermore, there are activities in the fields of imaging genetics (Andreas Heinz, Henrik Walter) and brain stimulation (Malek Bajbouj, Andrea Kühn). Several faculty members (Thomas Schmidt, Henrik Walter) work on ethical and theoretical issues in neuroscience and psychiatry (e.g., the concepts of “disease” and “disability”), ethical issues relating to neurosurgery, deep brain stimulation, “neuroenhancement” and neuroimaging; neurophilosophical issues of free will, autonomy, moral responsibility; implications of neuroscientific research for legal responsibility. Isabel Dziobek and her group investigate autism spectrum disorders and personality disorders. Stroke is a major research focus in Berlin, and several faculty members are active in this field (Matthias Endres, Ulrich Dirnagl, Arno Villringer). With specific relevance for our graduate school is the work on the psychological (depression, posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD]) consequences of stroke (Matthias Endres) and on the cognitive neuroscience of stroke prevention (Arno Villringer, see also topic 4). Cognition in neurology, the clinical and cognitive neuroscience of memory and memory disorders (Carsten Finke), and neurocognitive psychology (Arthur Jacobs) are also being investigated.

Contact details of the Mind & Brain faculty

Internal links to Faculty and Associated resarchers

Special Newsletter issue on dysfunction and disorders research

View or download pdf here or  see section Newsletter (internal link).


This page last updated on: 04 January 2023

Mind and Brain in a tight knot
Mind and brain are bound to each other in a tight knot – in good, but also in bad times. When there is something wrong with your mind, researchers observe a changed brain; if there is something wrong with your brain, you experience mental symptoms. The existence of this knot is a trivial truth – but to untie the knot is an ongoing experimental and conceptual challenge; a challenge that forces historically distinct disciplines together.