Hypothesis: social defeat is a risk factor for schizophrenia?

Research output: Contribution to journalDebate/Note/Editorial


The increased schizophrenia risks for residents of cities with high levels of competition and for members of disadvantaged groups (for example migrants from low- and middle-income countries, people with low IQ, hearing impairments or a history of abuse) suggest that social factors are important for aetiology, Dopaminergic dysfunctioning is a key mechanism in pathogenesis. This editorial is a selective literature review to delineate a mechanism whereby social factors can disturb dopamine function in the brain. Experiments with rodents have shown that social defeat leads to dopaminergic hyperactivity and to behavioural sensitisation, whereby the animal displays an enhanced behavioural and dopamine response to dopamine agonists. Neuroreceptor imaging studies have demonstrated the same phenomenain patients with schizophrenia who had never received antipsychotics, In humans, the chronic experience of social defeat may lead to sensitisation (and/or increased baseline activity) of the mesolimbic dopamine system and thereby increase the risk for schizophrenia. Declaration of interest None.


  • Jean-Paul Selten
  • Elizabeth Cantor-Graae
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Psychiatry
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S9-S12
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch