Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Although the biopsychosocial model has been a popular topic of discussion for over four decades it has not had the traction in fields of research that might be expected of such an intuitively appealing idea. One reason for this might be the absence of an identified mechanism or a functional architecture that is authentically biopsychosocial. What is needed is a robust mechanism that is equally important to biochemical processes as it is to psychological and social processes. Negative feedback may be the mechanism that is required. Negative feedback has been implicated in the regulation of neurotransmitters as well as important psychological and social processes such as emotional regulation and the relationship between a psychotherapist and a client. Moreover, negative feedback is purported to also govern the activity of all other organisms as well as humans. Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) describes the way in which negative feedback establishes control at increasing levels of perceptual complexity. Thus, PCT may be the first biopsychosocial model to be articulated in functional terms. In this paper we outline the working model of PCT and explain how PCT provides an embodied hierarchical neural architecture that utilizes negative feedback to control physiological, psychological, and social variables. PCT has major implications for both research and practice and, importantly, provides a guide by which fields of research that are currently separated may be integrated to bring about substantial progress in understanding the way in which the brain alters, and is altered by, its behavioral and environmental context.

Authors: Tim Carey, Warren Mansell, and Sara J. Tai

To read the full text of this article visit Frontiers of Human Neuroscience 

Tim Carey

About Tim Carey

Tim is a Professor in Mental Health at the Centre for Remote Health in Alice Springs, Australia where he conducts mental health research and provides a clinical psychology service within the public mental health service. He has a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of QLD (Australia) and an MSc in Statistics from the University of St Andrews (Scotland). He has over 100 publications including books, book chapters, and peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals and has presented his work at national and international conferences. Tim has developed a transdiagnostic cognitive therapy called the Method of Levels (MOL) which adopts a patient-centred view of mental health disorders and seeks to help patients resolve the distress underlying particular symptom patterns rather than focussing on the symptoms themselves. He has also pioneered a patient-led system of service delivery in which patients determine the frequency and duration of treatment sessions. His interests in mental health centre around the importance of control to psychological wellbeing and service provision and he prioritises the perspective of the individual in understanding psychological distress and helping in its amelioration.