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Sarah Durston (Jan 2021 - Dec 2021)

Professor of Developmental Disorders of the Brain, UMC Utrecht, the Netherlands

My research 

I have a background in neuroscience, and have been the head of the NICHE-lab at the Psychiatry Department of the UMC Utrecht since 2003. My lab has always focused on investigating neurobiological mechanisms in developmental disorders, such as ADHD. However, in the last few years, I have been realising more and more that the biomedical model will not provide all the answers in psychiatry by itself, and that we need to employ a biopsychosociocultural model instead. Here, we should not only take individual psychological and contextual factors into account, but also the implicit social and cultural norms that determine which behaviour we classify as disorders. This stems in part from my interest in how we partake in creating the reality we inhabit.

IAS fellowship

At IAS, I intend to zoom (back) out before zooming in. I will be working on the topic of emergence, as it is a clear example of how we partake in our reality. Relatively well understood examples of emergence teach us that the emergent phenomenon only has meaning in relation to an observer and at its scale: both the temperature and the pressure of the air have no meaning at the level of the molecules, but only at the level of the (human) observer. I hope to interact with scholars from varied backgrounds in thinking about the role of the observer, and then to take that back to the field of psychiatry. I intend to think and write about how we as individuals and society bare responsibility for interpreting and classifying behaviour, as it directly affects the lives of people with mental problems.