Skip to main content

Are delusions biologically adaptive? Salvaging the doxastic shear pin

  • Aaron L. Mishara (a1) (a2) and Phil Corlett (a1) (a3)

In their target article, McKay & Dennett (M&D) conclude that only “positive illusions” are adaptive misbeliefs. Relying on overly strict conceptual schisms (deficit vs. motivational, functional vs. organic, perception vs. belief), they prematurely discount delusions as biologically adaptive. In contrast to their view that “motivation” plays a psychological but not a biological function in a two-factor model of the forming and maintenance of delusions, we propose a single impairment in prediction-error–driven (i.e., motivational) learning in three stages in which delusions play a biologically adaptive role.

Hide All
Adams, C. D. & Dickinson, A. (1981) Actions and habits: Variations in associative representations during instrumental learning. In: Information processing in animals: Memory mechanisms, ed. Spear, N. E. & Miller, R. R., pp. 143–66. Erlbaum.
Binswanger, L. (1965) Wahn. Neske.
Conrad, K. (1958) Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns. Thieme.
Corlett, P. R., Frith, C. D. & Fletcher, P. C. (2009a) From drugs to deprivation: A Bayesian framework for understanding models of psychosis. Psychopharmacology 206(4):515–30.
Corlett, P. R., Honey, G. D. & Fletcher, P. C. (2007) From prediction error to psychosis: Ketamine as a pharmacological model of delusions. Journal of Psychopharmacology 21(3):238–52.
Corlett, P. R., Krystal, J. K., Taylor, J. R. & Fletcher, P. C. (2009b) Why do delusions persist? Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 3. Available at:
Davies, M. & Coltheart, M. (2000) Introduction: Pathologies of belief. In: Pathologies of belief, ed. Coltheart, M. & Davies, M., pp. 146. Blackwell.
Daw, N. D., Niv, Y. & Dayan, P. (2005) Uncertainty-based competition between prefrontal and dorsolateral striatal systems for behavioral control. Nature Neuroscience 8(12):1704–11.
Dickinson, A. & Shanks, D. (1995) Instrumental action and causal representation. In: Causal cognition: A multidisciplinary debate, ed. Sperber, D., Premack, D. & Premack, A. J., pp. 525. Oxford University Press.
Eisenhardt, D. & Menzel, R. (2007) Extinction learning, reconsolidation and the internal reinforcement hypothesis. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 87(2):167–73.
Fletcher, P. C. & Frith, C. D. (2009) Perceiving is believing: A Bayesian approach. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10(1):4858.
Fuster, J. M. (2006) The cognit: A network model of cortical representation. International Journal of Psychophysiology 60(2):125–32.
Haggard, P., Aschersleben, G., Gehrke, J. & Prinz, W. (2002) Action, binding and awareness. In Attention and performance XIX: Common mechanisms in perception and action, ed. Hommel, B. & Prinz, W., pp. 266–85. Oxford University Press.
Hemsley, D. R. & Garety, P. A. (1986) The formation of maintenance of delusions: A Bayesian analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry 149(July):5156.
Hitchcott, P. K., Quinn, J. J. & Taylor, J. R. (2007) Bidirectional modulation of goal directed actions by prefrontal cortical dopamine. Cerebral Cortex 17(12):2820–27.
Jaspers, K. (1963) General psychopathology, 7th edition, trans. Hoenig, J. & Hamilton, M. W.. The Johns Hopkins University Press. (Originally published in 1946.)
Kapur, S. (2003) Psychosis as a state of aberrant salience: A framework linking biology, phenomenology, and pharmacology in schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry 160(1):1323.
Kraus, A. (1997) Technical delusions as form of stabilisation [Le Delire technique comme forme de stabilisation]. Evolution Psychiatrique 62(2):381–99.
McGhie, A. & Chapman, J. (1961) Disorders of attention and perception in early schizophrenia. British Journal of Medical Psychology 34:103–16.
McKay, R., Langdon, R. & Coltheart, M. (2007a) Models of misbelief: Integrating motivational and deficit theories of delusions. Consciousness and Cognition 16:932–41.
Miller, R. (2008) A neurodynamic theory of schizophrenia (and related disorders). Lulu.
Milton, F., Patwa, V. K. & Hafner, R. J. (1978) Confrontation vs. belief modification in persistently deluded patients. British Journal of Medical Psychology 51(2):127–30.
Mishara, A. L. (2007a) Is minimal self preserved in schizophrenia? A subcomponents view. Consciousness and Cognition 16(3):715–21.
Mishara, A. L. (2007b) Missing links in phenomenological clinical neuroscience? Why we are still not there yet. Current Opinion in Psychiatry 60(20):559–69.
Mishara, A. L. (in press a) Kafka's doubles, paranoia and the brain: Hypnagogic vs. hyper-reflexive models of disruption of self in neuropsychiatric disorders and anomalous conscious states. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine (PEHM), PubMed Central Open Access Journal. Available at:
Mishara, A. L. (in press b) The unconscious in paranoid delusional psychosis? Phenomenology, nuroscience, psychoanalysis. In: Founding psychoanalysis, ed. Lohmar, D. & Bruzinska, J.. Springer.
Mishara, A. L. (2010) Klaus Conrad (1905–1961): Delusional mood, psychosis and beginning schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin 36(1):913.
Tsuang, M. T., Faraone, S. V. & Day, M. (1988) Schizophrenic disorders. In: The new Harvard guide to psychiatry, ed. Nicholi, A. Jr., pp. 259–95. Belknap Press.
Uhlhaas, P. J. & Mishara, A. L. (2007) Perceptual anomalies in schizophrenia: Integrating phenomenology and cognitive neuroscience. Schizophrenia Bulletin 33(1):142–56.
von Weizsäcker, V., (1950) Der Gestaltkreis. Theorie der Einheit von Wahrnnehmen und Bewegen 4. Aufl. (4th edition). Georg Thieme Verlag.
von Weizsäcker, V. (1956) Pathosophie. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Wegner, D. M. (2004) Précis of The illusion of conscious will. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (5):649–59; discussion660–92.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed