Evolution & Mental Health—BIO442 Teaching and Project expanding 'Evolutionary Psychiatry' Wikipedia
For the last three weeks I was involved in teaching and leading a project in evolutionary psychiatry as part of the BIO442 Evolutionary Medicine block course at the University of Zurich. The students were final year undergrads in biology or biomedicine. The teaching was split between four of us in the Institute for Evolutionary Medicine; three group leaders (Kaspar Staub, Adrian Jaeggi and Nicole Bender) and I – I covered the mental health side of the teaching. Of the three weeks of the block course, we taught for one week and then separated into groups to pursue projects for the remaining two weeks.
Out of the 15 or so students, I was pleasantly surprised that 11 of them wanted to work on projects related to mental health! Unfortunately that wasn't possible given the group size and way we were splitting the projects between the leaders, but Adrian took three students and I took four.
For my group's project, I wanted to build out the 'Evolutionary Psychiatry' Wikipedia page, which was previously a stub. With my four students, we set about doing some key readings, especially Randolph Nesse's 'Good Reasons for Bad Feelings' and then they each chose a disorder of interest to study and write up a section on. I worked on writing up some fundamentals, checking their work, and expanding the rest of the article. By the end of the two weeks, the entry was transformed! (before and after pictures at the end of this post)
One of the great unintended consequences of this project is that the Google search results for 'evolutionary psychiatry' were previously rather wild and somewhat disconnected to the field – people typing it in wouldn't have found a nice overview to access, because the Wikipedia page was too short for the algorithm to pick it up. Our work has completely changed that! It's great to think that more people will be able to access a basic overview of the field, and start thinking about mental health and disorder from an evolutionary perspective.
This isn't what I consider a completed project – several disorders remain to be included, and citations and additional points will need to be added in the future, but it's a very good start! I'm proud of the group, was impressed by their interest and hard work, and one of the students was so enthused by the project that she's now hoping to do her Master's thesis with Adrian and I on something evolutionary psychiatry related, and has offered to continue building up the Wikipedia page over the summer, even though the course has ended! So that's something we'll be working on over the coming months.
Below are Adrian's tweets summarising the projects – and below that is the screenshot of how the Wikipedia page looked before and after our project!