The Descent of Madness: Evolutionary Origins of Psychosis and the Social Brain, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Descent of Madness

Evolutionary Origins of Psychosis and the Social Brain, 1st Edition

By Jonathan Burns


288 pages | 2 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Paperback: 9781583917435
pub: 2007-01-11
SAVE ~$7.04
Hardback: 9781583917428
pub: 2007-01-11
SAVE ~$22.50
eBook (VitalSource) : 9780203012116
pub: 2007-03-12
from $23.48

FREE Standard Shipping!


Drawing on evidence from across the behavioural and natural sciences, this book advances a radical new hypothesis: that madness exists as a costly consequence of the evolution of a sophisticated social brain in Homo sapiens.

Having explained the rationale for an evolutionary approach to psychosis, the author makes a case for psychotic illness in our living ape relatives, as well as in human ancestors. He then reviews existing evolutionary theories of psychosis, before introducing his own thesis: that the same genes causing madness are responsible for the evolution of our highly social brain.

Jonathan Burns’ novel Darwinian analysis of the importance of psychosis for human survival provides some meaning for this form of suffering. It also spurs us to a renewed commitment to changing our societies in a way that allows the mentally ill the opportunity of living.

The Descent of Madness will be of interest to those in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, sociology and anthropology, and is also accessible to the general reader.

Table of Contents

Introduction. A History and Prehistory of Madness. Evolutionary Principles of the Origins of Psychosis. Evolutionary Genetics of Psychosis. A Social Brain for a Social World. The Evolution of the Social Brain. Schizophrenia and the Social Brain. The Dysconnectivity Hypothesis of Schizophrenia. Evolutionary Ontogeny of Schizophrenia. The Costly Legacy of an Evolved Social Brain.

About the Author

Jonathan Burns is chief specialist psychiatrist at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine. His main areas of research include psychotic illnesses, human brain evolution and evolutionary origins of psychosis.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Clinical Psychology
PSYCHOLOGY / Psychopathology / General
PSYCHOLOGY / Psychotherapy / General