‘Braining’ psychiatry: an investigation into how complexity is managed in the practice of neuropsychiatric research

Bas de Boer*, Hedwig te Molder, Peter Paul Verbeek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
37 Downloads (Pure)


Neuropsychiatry searches to understand mental disorders in terms of underlying brain activity by using brain imaging technologies. The field promises to offer a more objective foundation for diagnostic processes and to help developing forms of treatment that target the symptoms of a specific mental disorder. However, brain imaging technologies also reveal the brain as a complex network, suggesting that mental disorders cannot be easily linked to specific brain areas. In this paper, we analyze a case study conducted at a neuropsychiatry laboratory to explore how the complexity of the human brain is managed in light of the project of explaining mental disorders in terms of their neurological substrates. We use a combination of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis to show how previously assigned diagnostic labels are constitutive of interpretations of experimental data and, therefore, remain unchallenged. Furthermore, we show how diagnostic labels become materialized in experimental design, in that the linking of symptoms of mental disorders to specific brain areas is treated as indicative of successfully designed experimental stimuli. In conclusion, we argue that while researchers acknowledge the complexity of the brain on a generic level, they do not grant this complexity to the brains of individuals diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)758-781
Early online date29 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Complexity
  • Conversation analysis
  • Diagnostic categories
  • Ethnomethodology
  • Neuropsychiatry
  • Technological mediation theory
  • UT-Hybrid-D


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