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An Interdisciplinary Case Study of Madness

Joan-Beth Gow
School of Professional Studies
Anna Maria College
Susan Nava-Whitehead
Sciences and Education Department
Becker College
Kerri W. Augusto
Psychology and Mental Health Counseling
Becker College


In this interdisciplinary case, students meet Josie, the main character, who suffers from a variety of symptoms. Students must grapple with the conflicting data presented, which ultimately leads them to a diagnosis of either porphyria or schizophrenia. This case can be used in many ways depending on the focus of the course and the instructor. In its simplest form, it can be used to develop content-specific knowledge on the genetic illness porphyria and/or the psychological illness schizophrenia. In an interdisciplinary context, it can be used as a way to discuss complex modes of inheritance and types of confounding issues a genetic counselor, social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist might face when trying to sort through a complex family history to develop a pedigree or genogram. The case has been used successfully with majors and non-majors in psychology, biology, and genetics. Optional extensions to the case provide for reflection on the theme of "science in society" and how the perception of disease has changed over time.


  • Define terminology related to porphyria and/or schizophrenia, including dominant, recessive, gene, allele, variable expressivity, penetrance, pleiotropy, multifactorial/single gene inheritance, polygenic, epigenetics, heritability, empiric risk, complex pattern of inheritance, DSM-IV-TR, differential diagnosis, psychosis, delusion, hallucination, family systems theory, genogram, schizophrenia, positive symptom, negative symptom, anhedonia.
  • Outline the defining social dynamics of disease and abnormal behavior.
  • Map graphically and interpret family histories using standardized instruments (i.e., pedigrees and/ or genograms).
  • Identify the signs and symptoms of porphyria and schizophrenia.
  • Develop skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and data analysis.
  • Synthesize data to formulate and defend a conclusion.
  • Work collaboratively within and across disciplines.
  • Become comfortable with educational risk-taking in the process of selecting and defending a position.
  • Accept ambiguity in conclusions.
  • Develop tolerance for others opinions / respect diversity.
  • Appreciate and communicate that scientific understanding is contextual


Porphyria; schizophrenia; aberrant behavior; madness; mental disorder; mental illness; heredity; genogram; pedigree

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Graduate



Type Methods




Subject Headings

Biology (General) Genetics / Heredity Psychology Medicine (General) Interdisciplinary Sciences

Date Posted


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