The Biologically Based Bias of Personality Disorder Diagnosis

This was a keynote address delivered April 20, 2016 to students and professors at the Tri-collegiate Psychology Student Research Symposium at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey: Bias is a much discussed topic on today's campuses. Bias can be subtle. The biased do not always know that they are biased. Discussion raises awareness of bias, and has done so with respect to racial stereotyping or misogynistic views, for example. On the contrary, there is an unspoken species of biological bias that cuts across race and gender lines. While relating to race and gender, this biological variable is called Life History Evolution, and it does not enjoy general awareness. Life history evolution is a cluster of bio-demographic and behavioral variables that necessitates extended explanation. Suffice it to say that there is life history diversity, just as there is racial and sexual diversity. Though few have heard of life history, all are familiar with behavioral markers of life history diversity, which we alternately term virtue and vice, wealth and poverty, lawfulness and criminality, altruism and selfishness and the like. Without being aware that this diversity has an underlying biological logic, the virtuous, wealthy, law-abiding and altruistic are apt to denigrate their opposites; and in some instances, to diagnose their opposites. This has happened with respect to personality disorder diagnosis. The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has a revised personality disorder section in its fifth edition. In that section are a list of personality disorders and their symptoms, as has been the case since the first edition published in 1952. New to this fifth edition, published in 2013, are the General Criteria for Personality Disorder or GCPD. The GCPD describes pathological personality traits, such as negative affect, detachment and antagonism. In rounding out its operational definition of pathological personality, the GCPD also speaks of impaired personality functioning; these include deficits in self-identity and self-direction on one hand, and deficits in empathy and intimacy on the other. These seem to be objective descriptions of disorder, but are better understood as life history traits. More specifically, the GCPD represent one side of the life history spectrum, while the psychiatrists that created the GCPD very likely represent the other side of that spectrum. Thus, there is one end of a biological spectrum labeling the other. This would not make sense if applied to race or sex, and does not, in fact, make sense when applied to life history-related personality traits, as this talk will explain.

Towards a Philosophy of Personality

Normal personality variation transitions to abnormal personality pathology when it 1) causes distress, 2) deviates from cultural ideals, 3) is statistically rare, 4) is conspicuously imbalanced. Towards a Philosophy of Personality, a lecture delivered on November 17th 2012 at the College of New Rochelle’s First Annual Symposium on Mental Health, argued that none of these standards are applicable to personality and its diagnosis. Drawing on evolutionary biology, behavioral genetics and recent advances in personality psychology, a new definition of personality was constructed. Once personality is truly explained, and not simply described, its inherent diversity becomes comprehensible. Like racial and religious diversity, personality diversity is to be appreciated instead of pathologized. Towards a philosophy of personality attempts to provide a framework in which true personality disorders can be better differentiated from strategic types, which, though they are extreme, are not pathological.

On Assessment: Effective Diagnosis and Description

This was a talk delivered to graduate psychology students at the New York City Board of Education in Brooklyn on February 1st 2013. It taught students to use testing dynamically in order to answer referral questions and make diagnostic decisions. Students learned how to customize assessment batteries, organize results, condense findings, differentiate between symptoms and syndromes and engage in differential diagnosis. In essence, this lecture proposed an ideal that students could aspire to; an ideal that animates the testing process such that it transitions from a static activity to a dynamic process. Attendees were encouraged think diagnostically and scientifically about persons and data.

Additional Lectures

Towards a Diathesis Model of the Temporally Incongruent Modern Self, a poster presentation displayed May 30, 2010 at the 22nd annual Association for Psychological Science Convention in Boston, Massachusetts.

Referrals and Referral Questions, a lecture delivered September 5, 2013 for administrators and clinical staff at Specialized Therapy Associates in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, a lecture delivered December 4, 2013 for social services and clinical staff of the Home-Studies & Adoption Placement Services at the American Legion in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Herbert Harris Krauss Lectures in Human Experience, Part I: Reason and Emotion in Modernity & Mankind, a lecture delivered February 10, 2014 for undergraduates attending The College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey.

Herbert Harris Krauss Lectures in Human Experience, Part II: Utopian Philosophies-Dystopian Societies: The French Revolution and the Foundations of Human Nature, a lecture delivered September 3, 2014 for undergraduates attending The College of Saint Elizabeth, in Morristown, New Jersey.

Herbert Harris Krauss Lectures in Human Experience, Part III: The Eriksonian Quest: The Search for Person and Place, a lecture delivered September 12, 2014 to undergraduates attending The College of Saint Elizabeth, in Morristown, New Jersey.

Genetics, Gestation and Development, a lecture delivered November 22, 2014 at the Ridgewood Public Library for Residents and Patrons in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

The Rise of Three: Differentiating spurious elevations from epidemic prevalence in Bipolar Disorder, Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a lecture delivered December 2, 2014 for graduate students attending Caldwell University, in Caldwell, New Jersey.

Personality and its Variation, a lecture delivered February 3, 2015 to the staff of Children’s Aid & Family Services in Paramus, New Jersey.

The Temperate Broadleaf Deciduous Forest Biome: Selecting for Slow Life Histories through Seasonality, Soil, and Phytochemical Ecology, a lecture delivered September 30, 2016 to students, professors and affiliates of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.

Epidemiological Perspectives on Psychopathology: The Paradox of Common, Harmful, Heritable Mental Illness, a lecture delivered January 12, 2017 to interns and employees of Robert Wood Johnson/Barnabas Health’s Regional Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Using Biome Mapping and Weighting to more Precisely Predict Biogeographic Differences in Intelligence, a lecture delivered May 13, 2016 to fellow researchers at London Conference on Intelligence at University College London in London, England.

Dr. Steven C. Hertler
10 Sycamore Avenue
Ho Ho Kus, New Jersey 07423

Second Location
218 Lorraine Avenue
Upper Montclair, New Jersey 07043