Dr. Usha Nandini M
Psychiatry Resident,
Tirunelveli Medical College, Tamilnadu

“Technology has penetrated every aspect of our life and medical sciences is not an exception. It is not a matter of if/when anymore. It is a matter of how. How can we live with the symbiosis of medical sciences and technology? I think this is what will be revolutionary in the next few years.”

Disclaimer: This article is written to help dummies like me to understand what this complex terminology means. It is aimed to be simple and understandable rather than perfect and accurate. Experts are requested to refrain from reading this article 😉

Intersectoral disciplines are very intriguing. We know how Sheldon Cooper was able to come to a Nobel Prize winning discovery in physics with the inputs from Amy Farah Fowler who was a neurobiologist. Okay, Okay..! I agree that it was just a fictional piece from a TV series. But you get the idea, right? Two entirely different aspects of science can come together to give very interesting prospects! One of such intersections is Computational Psychiatry. It uses the techniques of psychiatry, psychology, machine learning, neuroscience, behavioural economics and a lot other complicated mathematics to try and decipher unsolved mystery behind various psychiatric illnesses. It tries to build mathematical models for it. I know right! Maths? Seriously?! But it turns out that our decision making process and the basis for various such cognitive processes is done in a meticulous and sequential flow and that’s where mathematics comes in. If we try and decode this basic maths behind all this in normal and various affected brains, we might be able to build up models to study them extensively. Why am I talking with “mights?” It’s already done and is possible!

The details of each of them can get pretty much too technical and is beyond the scope of this article. But, here is an example that’s relatively easy for us to understand: Connectionist and neural network models. This is one of the earliest and preliminary models. Based on the information from biology of psychopathology, neural networks were developed in which particular neurons take on specific computational roles like for a particular sensory input etc. In psychiatry, this model was mainly applied to Schizophrenia. The dynamics of associative networks were used to reproduce the characteristic rapid changing, loose associations in the speech of schizophrenic patients. Less stable, constantly altering memories were reproduced by increasing the noise while correspondingly decreasing the dynamic gain of the networks leading to less specific memories. While overloading these networks with memories beyond its capacity, spurious memories reminiscent of hallucinations arose. Cool, right? We were able to artificially produce hallucinations in the models. This model has been tailored to use and study various such aspects of Schizophrenia and mania.

I feel this is already too much information for us to awe at and hence I’m not continuing with other models like reinforcement models, model based planning etc. But it’s also interesting. So, if you are really intrigued and would like to explore more, start from the links given below which were my references and dive into it! Do tell me if you found anything particularly fascinating in the comments of this article. Let’s explore more together J

  1. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/bfm%3A978-1-4614-6675-8%2F1.pdf
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAyObyDb9CU
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G83r_SUDXE

Disclaimer 2: Dr Sheldon Cooper and Dr. Amy Farah Fowler are not real scientists. They are characters of the popular TV show- The Big Bang Theory. If you haven’t tried it yet, do watch it. It’s awesome for science dummies like us.





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