Understanding Our Own Biology: The Relevance of Auto-Biological Attributions for Mental Health

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As knowledge of the neurobiological basis of psychopathology has advanced, public perceptions have shifted toward conceptualizing mental disorders as disorders of biology. However, little is known about how patients respond to biological information about their own disorders. We refer to such information as auto-biological—describing our own biological systems as a component of our identity. Drawing on research from attribution theory, we explore the potential for auto-biological information to shape how patients view themselves in relation to their disorders. We propose an attributional framework for presenting auto-biological information in a way that encourages agency, rather than destiny. We argue that this framework has the potential to change expectations and improve outcomes in the treatment of psychiatric disorders.





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MacDuffie, KE, and TJ Strauman (2017). Understanding Our Own Biology: The Relevance of Auto-Biological Attributions for Mental Health. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 24(1). pp. 50–68. 10.1111/cpsp.12188 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/31193.

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Timothy J. Strauman

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

FOR POTENTIAL STUDENTS (fall 2024 class): 

Dr. Timothy Strauman and Dr. Ann Brewster will be seeking to admit a student for Fall 2024 who will be an important member of their collaborative projects. Dr. Brewster is an intervention scientist and a faculty member in Duke’s Social Science Research Institute. The collaborative projects focus on creating, testing, and implementing school-based therapeutic and preventive interventions for adolescents at risk for negative academic and mental health outcomes. We are partnering with the Durham Public Schools as well as with other local school districts, and Dr. Brewster has extensive experience and expertise in developing the partnerships, working with community members, and the intervention process itself. We are especially interested in applicants with experience in community-based interventions, with interests in adolescence, and with knowledge and experience working with both behavioral and neuroimaging data.

Professor Strauman's research focuses on the psychological and neurobiological processes that enable self-regulation, conceptualized in terms of a cognitive/motivational perspective, as well as the relation between self-regulation and affect. Particular areas of emphasis include: (1) conceptualizing self-regulation in terms of brain/behavior motivational systems; (2) the role of self-regulatory cognitive processes in vulnerability to depression and other disorders; (3) the impact of treatments for depression, such as psychotherapy and medication, on self-regulatory function and dysfunction in depression; (4) how normative and non-normative socialization patterns influence the development of self-regulatory systems; (5) the contributory roles of self-regulation, affect, and psychopathology in determining immunologically-mediated susceptibility to illness; (6) development of novel multi-component treatments for depression targeting self-regulatory dysfunction; (7) utilization of brain imaging techniques to test hypotheses concerning self-regulation, including the nature and function of hypothetical regulatory systems and characterizing the breakdowns in self-regulation that lead to and accompany depression.

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