Ethical Implications of Inconclusive Scientific Research on Schizophrenia

Ashley Cheff


Schizophrenia leads to distorted perceptions of reality and irrational beliefs. It is the ninth leading cause of disability worldwide, however its etiology is unknown. The Dopamine Hypothesis of Schizophrenia (DHS), developed in the 1950s, postulates that increased dopamine in the brain causes schizophrenia. Despite its poor empirical track record, DHS has been widely accepted. This paper investigates why DHS persisted without sufficient evidence and addresses the ethical implications of such persistence to clinical treatment.


I provide an overview of the scientific research on the DHS, emphasizing its lack of validity. Next, I determine that the DHS is not a genuine scientific theory, because it is too vague to be tested and has never been challenged by an alternative explanation. Then I argue that the persistence of the DHS could be attributed to the dominating contextual values (background beliefs) at the time, such as the popularity of biology as a hard science, which outweighed cognitive values such as truth and validity.


This persistence is ethically problematic when the lives of those with schizophrenia are considered. The treatment plans developed as a result of the DHS may cause more harm to patients due to a lack of complete understanding of the illness.


Ethics; Psychiatry

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