Mental States: from the Neuroscientists’ Viewpoint

The field of Neuroscience faces continued challenges because of the reductionistic nature of the natural sciences in the first place. In my field of psychotherapy, we tend view the concept of mental states in a holistic manner and this article may seem out of place in this blog. However, a little bit of reductionism can lead us to better visualization of observed phenomena.

How do neuroscientists categorize elements that make up our understanding of what mental state is?


the wakeness, disorder in the organic brain process (caused by disease/accident or drugs) affect the wakefulness of a person.

The qualitative nature of the wakefulness, like one’s orientation to place, time, situation, and other persons / self. In dementia, for example, the quality of consciousness is affected.


extension, duration, control of attention span. Deficits in attention are seen in psychosis, or when affected by substance. There are also other organic disorders.


 psychopathologic conditions involve inability to percieve reality:  illusions, hallucinations or delusious perceptions


the ability to form thoughts. Whether normal or subnormal is relative to cultural norms and a person’s ability as a result to function in socientx.  There is usually a formal flow and content (otherwise ther is delusion).


short-term, long-term memory; storage, recall


Intensity and Modulation of emotions, especially of anxiety, depression and aggression; control of effect and impulses


general level of motivation, physical / sexual needs, interests.


concerns and wishes (significant factor in studying addiction) and delusions.

Behavioural planning:

Structure of the intentions, reality in relation to plans, action regulation (disorder in depression and schizophrenia)

Motor behaviour :

This domain is evaluated in relation to occuring motor patterns that are observed during the communication („Psychomotorics“; reduced in depression, elevated in Mania).


ability to decide (ambivalence in schizophrenia), judgement, idealization / ideals, have the will to do something (feeling of being controlled externally in schizophrenia).


Realism and balance of self image (e.g. strong polarization in addiction, neuroses and Personality disorders).



Tretter, F., Winterer, G., Gebicke-Haerter, P. J., & Mendoza, E. R. (Eds.). (2010). Systems biology in psychiatric research: from high-throughput data to mathematical modeling. John Wiley & Sons.

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