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From Social Risk Factors to Psychosis

Event information

START DATE 24 September 2015
START TIME 04:00pm

Committee Room 3, Town Hall, Middlesex University, The Burroughs, Hendon, London, NW4 4BT

END DATE 24 September 2015
END TIME 05:00pm

Guest speaker Richard Bentall, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Liverpool University, discusses social risk factors to psychosis

Standard approaches to psychosis have emphasised genetic determinants based on the misunderstanding that high heritability indices indicate that the lion's share of causation must go to genes. 

In fact, genetic research at the molecular level has failed to find genes of major effect and has revealed that the the genetic risk for mental illness is massively polygenic and diagnostically non-specific. 

In contrast, recent research, often supported by meta-analyses, has shown large associations between a variety of social risk factors and psychosis including: poverty, social inequality, exposure to urban environments, belonging to an ethnic minority, inadequate communication style in parents, mistreatment and other types of trauma in childhood and victimisation in adulthood. 

Many of these effects seem strongest when exposure occurs in childhood, but there is evidence that a childhood adversity followed by adult adversity is particularly toxic. In our own research we have found associations between specific kinds of social adversity and specific types of symptoms. 

For example, childhood sexual abuse is a particular risk factor for hallucinations and disruption of early attachment relationships is a particular risk factor for paranoid symptoms. These associations point to symptom-specific pathways by which adversity impacts on specific cognitive and affective processes, leading to specific symptoms. They also point to the importance of developing a discipline of public mental health.


This guest lecture is open to all. There is no need to book, please just turn up. If you have any questions about the event please contact Gemma Reynolds.


Richard Bentall is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Liverpool University and has previously held chairs at Manchester University and Bangor University. His research interests have mainly focused on psychosis. 

He has studied the cognitive and emotional mechanisms involved in psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoid delusions and manic states, using methods ranging from psychological experiments, and experience sampling to functional magnetic resonance imaging. 

Most recently, his research has focused on why social risk factors (for example childhood adversities such as poverty, abuse, and bullying) provoke the cognitive and emotional changes that lead to these symptoms. 

In collaboration with colleagues at Manchester and elsewhere he has also conducted large scale randomized controlled trials of psychological interventions for people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and prodromal psychosis. He has published over 200 peer-review papers and a number of books including Madness explained: Psychosis and human nature (Penguin, 2003) and Doctoring the mind: Why psychiatric treatments fail (Penguin, 2009).

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