What Causes The Onset of Psychosis?

Psychosis is a debilitating psychological condition that causes an individual to experience psychotic thinking patterns, sense things that are not in their present environment, and experience cognitive complications. Many factors are suspected of contributing to someone developing psychosis, but no one single element has been shown to cause someone to become psychotic exclusively. In this blog post, we discuss some of the factors that have been researched that are considered to cause someone to develop psychosis.

Biological Factors

The hippocampus controls the dopamine system in the brain. For years, researchers have thought that dopamine dysregulation may cause someone to become psychotic. Researchers later found that dopamine release was positively correlated with the experience of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, but not the negative. In individuals without psychosis, the prefrontal cortex regulates activity of the hippocampus and the amygdala, which in turn regulates dopamine levels. However, individuals with psychosis have altered circuitry, which causes them to experience cognitive impairments displaying as impaired executive functioning.  The abnormal circuitry of the prefrontal cortex to the limbic system in people with psychosis is suggested to be involved in the dysregulation of dopamine.

Social Factors

Our surroundings and interactions with them contribute to our health, as there is an interaction between our biology and our environment. Researchers have identified social factors that may contribute to someone developing psychosis include being born in and living in an urban area, poor relationship with one’s mother in early life, and experiencing social isolation. These social factors have impacts on one’s brain development and neurochemical balance, which shapes behavior and interactions with one’s environment. More research is needed to better understand the mechanisms by which social factors influence brain development and neurochemical imbalance in individuals with psychosis. However, researchers have also identified poor educational qualifications, substance abuse, and stressful life events as likely contributors.

Developmental Factors

Connecting to the biological and social factors of developing psychosis are the developmental factors. In children who later develop schizophrenia, studies have shown that individuals may experience cognitive impairment, social anxiety, and isolation. Further research shows that children living with schizophrenia may have difficulty learning cognitive skills as they become teenagers, thus causing them to feel different from their peers in school.

Sometimes, children may experience symptoms of psychosis as early as 11 years old. For example, one study examined abnormal thoughts in children and found that children who reported having 2 or more abnormal thoughts were more likely to have a diagnosis of schizophrenia when they were in their 20’s.


Psychosis has many causes: biological, social, and developmental. Biological causes include neurochemical imbalances, genetics, and brain structure abnormalities. Social factors include experiencing stress, substance abuse, living in an urban area, and social isolation. Lastly, developmental factors include cognitive and social delays, which may plague children as they go through school. Psychosis is multi-etiological, meaning that there are multiple causes that may interact with one another. More research is needed to understand the specific mechanisms of which psychosis occurs, but researchers have identified causes that can be further studied to understand this. Along with understanding what causes psychosis, researchers need to identify ways to help people living with psychosis live independently and participate in life activities so as to avoid homelessness, poverty, and hospitalization.

Source: Broome, M. R., Woolley, J. B., Tabraham, P., Johns, L. C., Bramon, E., Murray, G. K., … & Murray, R. M. (2005). What causes the onset of psychosis?. Schizophrenia research, 79(1), 23-34.
Margaret Davis

Margaret Davis is a junior studying advertising at Temple University. She is thrilled to be joining the HappyNeuron Pro team as the Content Marketing Intern. With her previous experience working on PR and Social Media campaigns, Margaret hopes to bring a variety of skills to the team.

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