Professor Mark F. Lenzenweger hopes his latest book, Principles of Experimental Psychopathology: Essays in Honor of Brendan A. Maher will educate the newest generation of psychologists about how important Maher has been to the field. The result of a festschrift, or literary tribute to a scholar, in May 2000 at Harvard, the book is a collection of essays about Maher’s contributions to experimental psychopathology, the study of mental disorders.
In 1966, Maher wrote Principles of Psychopathology, a groundbreaking work that shifted the study of mental disease from observation and description to an experimental approach. Maher was among the first to move beyond simply describing a disorder and, instead, advocated the use of laboratory experiments to try and understand the causes and nature of a given illness.
Lenzenweger said Maher changed the customary approach to psychopathology research in other ways as well, for example by telling his students, “Don’t rate. Count.” Rather than rating the presence or severity of a symptom, which is subject to the opinion of the researcher, Maher’s students would instead count the number of times a symptom manifested itself or the number of times a subject performed a laboratory task in a certain manner.
“Let’s imagine a test involves psychomotor speed — how quickly you’re writing on your paper,” explained Lenzenweger, “I could either rate it as ‘writing quickly’ or ‘writing very quickly.’ Or I could count how many letters you produce in 60 seconds.” He said the resulting data actually obey many of the fundamental laws of scaling (formal rules that govern the construction of psychological tests and measures), which allow the researcher to multiply, divide and have a real zero.
In 1999, while a member of the Harvard faculty, Lenzenweger secured funding from the Science Directorate of the American Psychological Association (APA) to bring together many people whose professional lives had been touched by Maher — colleagues, former students, advisees, friends — and many of them presented papers based on their own research and scientific focus, which had been influenced by working with Maher. “It was a nice opportunity to get everyone together in one room so we could talk about how Brendan had inspired us in so many ways,” said Lenzenweger.
“What makes this book different is that many festschrifts resemble what we call ‘proceedings’ of a meeting, and the quality of papers can be somewhat variable,” said Lenzenweger. However, the contributors to Principles of Experimental Psychopathology wrote superb scholarly papers of publishable quality, rather than just transcriptions of their oral presentations.
Lenzenweger’s co-editor or the book is Jill Hooley, professor of psychology at Harvard University, who as also known Maher for a number of years. Principles of Experimental Psychopathology also includes a short biography of Maher, written by Lenzenweger, which spans Maher’s childhood in England, service in World War II, education, and career that has lasted over half a century.
Lenzenweger is currently finishing a book summarizing all of his research on schizotypy (the liability for developing schizophrenia). His book will be the very first in-depth, integrative treatment of schizotypy, and schizotypic psychopathology in psychopathology research. It will be distinguished by a thorough review of the experimental psychopathology literature on this important topic.
With all of the research in experimental psychopathology, neuroscience, and genetics, Lenzenweger remains optimistic a cure for schizophrenia lies ahead. “Initially, such a cure might only take the form of a treatment intervention, but what we would really like to have ultimately is what is known as ‘primary prevention,’ which would protect virtually everyone,” he said. “Schizophrenia is a complex illness and it’s yielding its secrets very, very slowly.” Thanks to the advances in research methods that began with Maher’s classic vision, perhaps the cure is closer than we think.
Mark F. Lenzenweger left Harvard University for Harpur College in 2001. His first academic interest was mammalian zoology, but he quickly fell in love with psychology as an undergraduate at Cornell. “Someone later pointed out to me that by doing psychopathology research, I was sort of doing mammalian zoology, because I’m studying mammals and their behavior,” he said.
In college, Lenzenweger read the work of Paul E. Meehl, a preeminent clinical psychologist, who wrote important theoretical papers on schizophrenia. “I found them incredibly interesting and thought provoking. They really spurred me on to trying to understand schizophrenia,” he said. Lenzenweger received his Bachelor’s degree from Cornell and his Master’s and Ph.D. from Yeshiva University. He completed his clinical psychology internship training as well as a postdoctoral fellowship in psychopathology research at the Cornell University Medical College. He also completed research training at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University.
Lenzenweger realizes the importance of decoding such a complicated disorder as schizophrenia. “It causes severe suffering in those afflicted, places an incredible burden on their families, and costs society a phenomenal amount of resources in terms of direct care costs, aftercare costs, and foregone earnings,” he explained. Today, Lenzenweger is one of the world’s foremost researchers of schizotypy and schizophrenia. He has edited four books and written over 60 original research articles and scholarly papers on the subject of schizotypy, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and taxometric analysis.
Lenzenweger keeps busy with teaching, supervising graduate students, and research. Harpur College has appointed him to an inter-area professorship between clinical science, behavioral neuroscience, and cognitive psychology, which allows Lenzenweger the flexibility to fit everything in. He is currently continuing research programs on schizophrenia and has a longitudinal study on personality disorders originally funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. His most resent research work has been funded by a Distinguished Investigator Award from the National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) as well as by the Borderline Personality Disorder Research Foundation.