I hope that the reader by now has some grasp of how the ‘theatre’ of a certain age exerts influence on scientific concepts. This is especially important in the neurobiological sciences. Researchers can’t simply lift a patient’s skull and take a good look inside, so to speak. Until advanced imaging techniques found their way into universities and hospitals, investigators had to rely on:
- a patient’s self-report, verbal (in an interview), or via a questionnaire;
- their close observation of a patient’s presentation in non-verbal terms (phenotypical, or phenomenological) – e.g. skin-picking, the urge for ordering things on a desk, trembling, sweating.
Although an experienced clinician can draw numerous conclusions from the above methods, he/she can still say next to nothing about what might be the abnormalities in that patient’s brain (presumably the substrate of the mind, the soul if you will) – if there are any, that is. This problem obviously put an enormous brake on developing valid animal models of OCD (and other mood disorders) for a very long time. Animals are in general not prone to self-report (birdsong and barking are not really fit for this); and it has been hard to find animals that show abnormalities in their outward behaviour which can be said to have a connection to human obsessions and compulsions. For example, mice can show excessive grooming behaviours, that lead to whole body regions becoming bald. Yet: can this really constitute a valid model for human trichotillomania? No, there has to be more. Later on, I will return to the topic of animal models in OCD research.