The Evolutionary Neurodevelopmental Perspective

In the natural sciences, knowledge grows through a rigorous interplay of theoretical speculation and empirical research. The phenomena of the more loosely boundaried social sciences, however, are not nearly as accessible to controlled experiments. Instead, the social sciences develop multiple perspectives that offer different angles of looking at and explaining the same phenomenon. Each perspective captures some essential aspect, but no single point of view exhausts the total phenomenon with which the science is concerned. Personality provides the supreme example. Personality and its disorders are accessible through each of the classical and contemporary perspectives described previously, none of which really offers any possibility of falsifying the others. Because personality is concerned with the entire matrix of the person, some theoretical basis is required through which these multiple perspectives can be integrated, thus allowing comparisons and contrasts among the various personality disorders as total constructs.

The evolutionary theory of personality (Millon, 1990; Millon & Davis, 1996) generates three pleasure-deficient personality disorders: the schizoid, avoidant, and depressive personalities. The schizoid exhibits broad emotional, motivational, cognitive, and interpersonal deficits. Emotionally, schizoids tend to be insensitive to both pleasure and pain. They not only are unmotivated to pursue enjoyment or to feel enthusiastic or happy but also experience few distressing feelings such as sadness, anxiety, and anger. Consequently, schizoids have little motivation to either seek rewards or distance themselves from discomfort. Instead, they passively adapt to what life offers, only rarely taking the initiative to change their own circumstances. Lacking much capacity for emotional experience, schizoids fail to become involved in interpersonal relationships, turning neither to themselves nor others for reinforcements. Thus, they often exhibit broad cognitive deficiencies, including an impoverished knowledge base and globalized appraisal processes. In terms of the evolutionary model, the total schizoid personality is best referred to as the passive-detached pattern. A summary of its expression across eight clinical domains is given in Table 11.1.

In contrast to other models, the evolutionary theory also recognizes that diverse developmental influences interact reciprocally across all domains of personality. That is, because personality is concerned with the entire matrix of the person, causality interacts across all domains simultaneously. Accordingly, any single domain might be made the starting point from which to develop an explanation of the development of the schizoid personality. Beginning with biology, we might first assert that schizoids possess an inborn constitutional deficit for emotional experience. Such infants would attach themselves only weakly to caretakers in early infancy and thereby fail to internalize object

TABLE 11.1 The Schizoid Personality: Functional and Structural Domains

Functional Domains

Structural Domains

Expressive Behavior




Appears to be in an inert emotional state, lifeless, undemonstrative, lacking in energy and vitality; is unmoved, boring unanimated, robotic, phlegmatic, displaying deficits in activation, motoric expressiveness, and spontaneity.

Reveals minimal introspection and awareness of self; seems impervious to the emotional and personal implications of everyday social life, appearing indifferent to the praise or criticism of others.

Interpersonal Conduct



Seems indifferent and remote, rarely responsive to the actions or feelings of others, chooses solitary activities, possesses minimal "human" interests; fades into the background, is aloof or unobtrusive, neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, prefers a peripheral role in social, work, and family settings.

Internalized representations are few in number and minimally articulated, largely devoid of the manifold percepts and memories of relationships with others, possessing little of the dynamic interplay among drives and conflicts that typify well-adjusted persons.

Cognitive Style


Morphologic Organization


Seems deficient across broad spheres of human knowledge and evidences vague and obscure thought processes, particularly about social matters; communication with others is often unfocused, loses its purpose or intention, or is conveyed via a loose or circuitous logic.

Given an inner barrenness, a feeble drive to fulfill needs, and minimal pressures either to defend against or resolve internal conflicts or cope with external demands, internal morphologic structures may best be characterized by their limited framework and sterile pattern.

Regulatory Mechanism


Mood/ Temperament


Describes interpersonal and affective experiences in a matter-of-fact, abstract, impersonal, or mechanical manner; pays primary attention to formal and objective aspects of social and emotional events.

Is emotionally unexcitable, exhibiting an intrinsic unfeeling, cold, and stark quality; reports weak affectionate or erotic needs, rarely displaying warm or intense feelings, and apparently unable to experience most affects—pleasure, sadness, or anger—in any depth.

Note: Shaded domains are the most salient for this personality prototype.

Note: Shaded domains are the most salient for this personality prototype.

relationships—the images of self and other that normally provide the foundation for the development of a solid sense of identity and normal empathy. As a consequence, caretakers would react with disappointment and dismay, and eventually the affectionate cuddling of the child tapers off. Hence, the blueprints of the future schizoid are mapped out by the continued deprivation and lack of exposure to models of warmth and appropriateness. The cognitive consequences would be lack of self-complexity, an impoverished fund of information about the larger culture, and the ability to make only global appraisals and inferences about the internal emotional states of others.

Family styles of communicating in which ideas are aborted or are transmitted in circumstantial, disjunctive, or amorphous ways are likely to shape the growing child's own manner of communication; in short, the child's pattern of relating to others assumes the vague and circumstantial style of his or her home. Moreover, exposed to disrupted, unfocused, and murky patterns of thought, the child learns, both by imitation and by the need to follow the illogic that surrounds him or her, to attend to peripheral or tangential aspects of human communication, that is, to signs and cues that most people would view as irrelevant and distracting. This way of attending to, thinking about, and reacting to events, if extended beyond the family setting, will give rise to perplexity and confusion on the part of others. As a consequence, a vicious circle of disjointed and meaningless transactions may come to characterize the interpersonal relations, leading the child into further isolation and social distance. Together, these events foster increased cognitive obscurities and emotional insensitivities, traits that characterize the schizoid pattern.

Children learn to imitate the pattern of interpersonal relationships to which they repeatedly are exposed. Learning to be stolid, reticent, and undemonstrative can be an incidental product of observing the everyday relationships within the family setting. Families characterized by interpersonal reserve, superficiality, and formality or possessing a bleak and cold atmosphere in which members relate to each other in an aloof, remote, or disaffiliated way are likely breeding grounds for schizoid children, who evidence deeply ingrained habits of social ineptness or insensitivity.

Other pathways to the schizoid personality might be imagined beginning in the early experiential domain. First, a child with a normal capacity for attachment and reinforcement might experience profound neglect. Here, nothing exists to which the child might become attached, except perhaps inanimate objects, such as a blanket or a pillow. Extended over many years, children with only minimal opportunity for human interaction likewise suffer permanent deficits in the ability to relate meaningfully to others, becoming "cultural schizoids," in much the same way that some children suffer permanent intellectual loss, "cultural retardation," when early intellectual stimulation is lacking. Cold, overly formal, reserved, remote, or simply uninterested parents all fail to contribute to the development of interpersonal sophistication and a rich inner life that well-adjusted children possess. Instead, cultural schizoids are left with an impoverished sense of identity and only scant knowledge about the world at large. Aimless, awkward, and emotionally disengaged, they would expect few reinforcements from others, typically receive few in return, and become only peripherally integrated into the larger society.

In the psychodynamic tradition, the same child might develop a "false face" to satisfy caretaker demands to conform to some artificial standard of behavior. Here, natural personal and emotional development is constantly devalued as the child is forced down contrived developmental pathways, the explicit purpose of which is to stunt and eventually overgrow any genuine identity the child might possess. As a result, the potential for a genuine identity atrophies until, eventually, no real self remains. Given such extended brainwashing, the young adult may be left with only a superficial sense of identity, one experienced as inauthentic to self and others. Sometimes, seeds of the forgotten identity may be recovered through therapy and sometimes not. Such individuals are considered in the biopsychosocial-evolutionary model as schizoid, not because they fail to learn to attend to interpersonal cues, but because the cues to which they attend have replaced those that might be considered genuinely reinforcing had the child developed within normal interpersonal relationships. The false self does not experience real pleasures.

Contrast with Other Personalities

Schizoids share a variety of surface traits with other personality disorders. In each case, the key to distinguishing the schizoid lies in identifying a generalized absence

Focus on Development

Schizoid Personality Disorder in Childhood Evidence of Developing Personality Patterns in Childhood

Freud wrote that the child is the father of the man. Although this research literature is still in its infancy, numerous points of continuity have been found between adult disorders and early manifestations of similar problems in childhood (Fennig & Carlson, 1995). The first account of schizoid personality in childhood was given by Ssucharewa in 1926 (Wolff, 1996). Symptoms included solitariness, odd thinking, flatness and superficiality of emotions, a tendency toward automatisms, impulsive behavior, inappropriate social behavior (clowning, rhyming, stereotypic neologisms), obsessive-compulsive behavior, heightened suggestibility, and various motor impairments, including clumsiness, awkwardness, abruptness of movement, and many superfluous movements. Contemporary thinking is that autism, Asperger's syndrome, and schizoid personality of childhood (Wolff, 1998) form a group of related disorders, a "schizoid spectrum." Although usually not as impaired as schizophrenic children, kids in these categories all show impaired social relations, developmental abnormalities, and delays of varying severity.

Wolff (1998) suggests that schizoid children are more impaired than autistic and As-perger's children on "theory of mind" tasks, which test a capacity to imagine what other people feel or think. Indeed, "lack of empathy" is a cardinal feature of the diagnosis. Other core characteristics noted were "solitariness (the children were 'loners')... increased sensitivity, at times with paranoid ideation; rigidity of mental set, especially the single-minded pursuit of special interests (such as electronics, architectural drawings, antiques, astronomy, dinosaurs, politics); and unusual styles of communicating such as odd use of metaphor, over- or undertalkativeness" (p. 124). In contrast to high-functioning autistic and Asperger's children, on follow-up the schizoid children showed better psychosocial adjustment as adults, not significantly different from the adjustment of their clinic-matched controls. However, they were not as able to reach their expected level of occupation or to as easily sustain an intimate sexual relationship, both characteristics of the adult schizoid personality.

of emotion and lack of desire for interpersonal contact. Both schizoids and schizotypals are relatively asocial, withdrawing from the company of others, but for different reasons. Schizotypals often feel a sense of social anxiety when in the company of others, perhaps reinforced by paranoid concerns, such as ideas of reference. Schizotypals may believe that others are referring to them in some way. When two people on the street are seen whispering to each other, a schizotypal may believe that he or she is the subject of the conversation. In contrast, schizoids are socially disinterested; the topics of others' conversations are of no concern to them. Moreover, whereas schizoids seem simply colorless and dull, schizotypals are notable for their broad cognitive eccentricities. These include magical thinking, for example, the notion that they can read the thoughts of others or have some sixth sense about the future, unusual perceptual experiences, and peculiarities of speech. In short, the schizotypal personality bears more of a resemblance to a subthreshold schizophrenic.

Likewise, both the schizoid and avoidant often seem socially hesitant and unresponsive, both withdraw interpersonally, and both may present as anxious if forced to endure some significant social encounter. The two personalities may be especially difficult to distinguish during a diagnostic interview, where the avoidant is too fearful or ashamed to be forthcoming and the schizoid simply has nothing to say. The crucial differences lie in the capacity for emotional feeling and the wish for social companionship. Avoidants have a rich emotional life but flee from contact with others out of fear of embarrassment, shame, or humiliation. Fearing condemnation or ridicule, they are acutely sensitive to the emotions of those around them and constantly evaluate the words and manners of others for cues of acceptance or rejection. Avoidants constantly scan their environment for potential threats. On the contrary, schizoids are considered insensitive, aloof, cold, and detached. They are not arrogant or callous, but simply lack a basic capacity for emotion and intimacy, even with their closest friends. Avoidants, however, have ample capacity for warmth and intimacy if trust can just be established. Finally, schizoids suffer little conflict, ambivalence, or disillusionment. In contrast, avoidants constantly feel trapped between the desire to seek social acceptance and the desire to withdraw into a private world of shame. Their disillusionment is deep and existential.

Both schizoids and depressives share an incapacity to experience joy or pleasure, appearing flat, colorless, solemn, and socially unresponsive. Both may exhibit evidence of psychomotor retardation, performing tasks slowly and methodologically, without evidence of any personal investment. Depressives, however, experience profound pain, feeling depleted, discouraged, and worthless. They not only are pessimistic about the future but also ruminate about what could have been and feel horribly guilty about possible misdeeds. They perceive their self-proclaimed inadequacies as contemptible, deserving of criticism and punishment. In contrast, schizoids lack emotional depth on almost every dimension and are incapable of the self-accusatory introspection of the depressive. Finally, the concerns of the depressive invariably have interpersonal overtones, whereas schizoids are socially disinterested and would never center their lives on the problems of interpersonal relationships.

Both schizoids and compulsives share a lack of emotional expressiveness, a tendency to intellectualize, and sometimes gravitate to similar occupations, though for different reasons. Moreover, compulsives' reliance on rules and regulations, their devotion to work at the expense of family life, and their need for the structure of the workplace all color their behavior with a detachment and passivity that superficially resemble the detachment of the schizoid, and the schizoid sometimes has idiosyncratic ideas that seem to possess a compulsive quality. Schizoids, however, prefer occupations that minimize interpersonal involvements and disregard or fail to appreciate social conventions. They are content to work away, day after day, in some isolated workplace cubicle, with few interruptions or social demands. Work that others find boring, the schizoid finds comforting. Compulsives, in contrast, overconform to social conventions and flourish in work that demands precision and detail, checking and cross-checking. Within their solemn exterior, the capacity for emotional expressiveness is intact, though it is seldom expressed. Accordingly, compulsives are best described as emotionally constricted, whereas schizoids are best seen as emotionally vacant. Moreover, schizoids are indifferent to interpersonal involvements, and their insensitivity to emotion prevents such intimidation.

Pathways to Symptom Expression

Because schizoids exist with minimal emotions and a paucity of relationships, they seldom develop Axis I disorders. Instead, they cope by removing themselves from difficult situations. When the going gets tough, the schizoid gets going. From the perspective of normality, such a lifestyle lacks the richness of what it means to be human; from a schizoid perspective, however, it also lacks many of the problems. As always, it is important to remember that there is a logic that connects the personality pattern with its associated Axis I syndromes. As you read the following paragraphs, try to identify the connection between personality and symptom.

Anxiety Disorders

Although all personality patterns experience anxiety, schizoids normally do not experience deep emotional feelings, and schizoid features are absent in neurotic subjects (Tyrer, Casey, & Seivewright, 1986). Their flat, colorless style tends to immunize them against anxiety and mood disorders, a feature that stretches across each of our three cases. Nevertheless, schizoids sometimes develop anxiety disorders in response to overstimulation or understimulation. Given no safe route back to the safety of an asocial environment, some schizoids explode when cornered by unusual persistent social demands or heavy responsibility. Obsessions or compulsions related to fears of returning to the social world may sometimes develop during periods of extended isolation, particularly if the individual has a history of being stressed by extended or traumatic social contact. Imagine what might happen if Leonard, the librarian, was forced to work in customer relations, for example.

Dissociative Disorders

The cognitive architecture of the schizoid mind creates a vulnerability to distortions of consciousness. In normal individuals, a well-developed sense of identity functions as ballast, keeping the organism stable during periods of anxiety and stress. In contrast, schizoids have only a poorly cohesive, patchwork self, and readily experience altered perceptions of identity, estrangement from self, severe emptiness (Kumin, 1978), or depersonalization. Given their emotional impoverishment, they may also feel mechanical or even disembodied. Schizoid traits and dissociative experiences may also coexist in subjects who have experienced severe childhood abuse (Swett & Halpert, 1993), though borderline traits are probably more common.

Schizophrenic and Psychotic Disorders

Many of the characteristics of the schizoid personality resemble the so-called negative, or deficit, symptoms of schizophrenic syndromes. Schizoids have little capacity for emotional experience. Likewise, schizophrenics experience a flattening in the range and intensity of emotion. Schizoids are often directionless, drifting aimlessly through life. Likewise, schizophrenics suffer diminished goal-directed activity. Schizoids fail to relate interpersonally and are indifferent to praise and criticism. Likewise, schizophrenics may become reclusive to avoid social anxiety and overstimulation. Schizoids are anhedonic, rarely experiencing pleasure; so are many schizophrenics. Schizoids are rarely spontaneous, lack emotional and interpersonal investments, and thus find little of substance that might be communicated to others. Likewise, schizophrenics suffer decreases in the production and fluency of speech.

Not all schizoids go on to develop schizophrenic syndromes, and not all schizophrenic syndromes are preceded by a personality disorder. Nevertheless, the similarities noted previously argue that schizoid personality disorder is in many cases prodromal to a schizophrenic syndrome (Millon, 1981). Further, schizoids do sometimes experience brief psychotic episodes under conditions of stress. Schizoids who develop psychotic or schizophrenic symptoms tend to exaggerate their premorbid pattern. They exhibit profound lethargy and indifference to their surroundings, possibly appearing stuporous and moving only listlessly, if at all. Speech is slow and sometimes inaudible. They resist efforts to be involved in interpersonal activities and may report that events and things around them seem unreal or strange. Their characteristic emotional impoverishment may be compounded by a dreamy detachment and feelings of depersonalization. Disorganized and catatonic subtypes are probably more common than the paranoid variety, as the latter reflects feelings of social anxiety that schizoids would normally lack unless repeatedly subjected to social stressors. The disorganized subtype may be seen as a deterioration of the basic schizoid pattern, and the catatonic type may reflect an effort to fortress the self against threats of environmental overstimulation.

Eliminating Stress and Anxiety From Your Life

Eliminating Stress and Anxiety From Your Life

It seems like you hear it all the time from nearly every one you know I'm SO stressed out!? Pressures abound in this world today. Those pressures cause stress and anxiety, and often we are ill-equipped to deal with those stressors that trigger anxiety and other feelings that can make us sick. Literally, sick.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment