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Psychosis and autism as diametrical disorders of the social brain

  • Bernard Crespi (a1) and Christopher Badcock (a2)

Autistic-spectrum conditions and psychotic-spectrum conditions (mainly schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression) represent two major suites of disorders of human cognition, affect, and behavior that involve altered development and function of the social brain. We describe evidence that a large set of phenotypic traits exhibit diametrically opposite phenotypes in autistic-spectrum versus psychotic-spectrum conditions, with a focus on schizophrenia. This suite of traits is inter-correlated, in that autism involves a general pattern of constrained overgrowth, whereas schizophrenia involves undergrowth. These disorders also exhibit diametric patterns for traits related to social brain development, including aspects of gaze, agency, social cognition, local versus global processing, language, and behavior. Social cognition is thus underdeveloped in autistic-spectrum conditions and hyper-developed on the psychotic spectrum.;>We propose and evaluate a novel hypothesis that may help to explain these diametric phenotypes: that the development of these two sets of conditions is mediated in part by alterations of genomic imprinting. Evidence regarding the genetic, physiological, neurological, and psychological underpinnings of psychotic-spectrum conditions supports the hypothesis that the etiologies of these conditions involve biases towards increased relative effects from imprinted genes with maternal expression, which engender a general pattern of undergrowth. By contrast, autistic-spectrum conditions appear to involve increased relative bias towards effects of paternally expressed genes, which mediate overgrowth. This hypothesis provides a simple yet comprehensive theory, grounded in evolutionary biology and genetics, for understanding the causes and phenotypes of autistic-spectrum and psychotic-spectrum conditions.

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