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Evaluation of the biological approach to psychopathology
The assumptions of the biological approach to psychopathology state that mental
disorders are the result of a physical dysfunction in the body and should therefore be
treated medically. There are four main examples of how disorders can be caused,
these are genetic inheritance, viral infection, neurotransmitters and neuroanatomy.
Genetic inheritance is the idea that an abnormality or a disorder is passed on from
parents to child via their genes. There has been research and investigations carried
out by psychologists using monozygotic twins as they are genetically identical. The
study showed that relatives of schizophrenics were 18 times more likely to be
diagnosed with schizophrenia. It also found that having an identical twin with
schizophrenia gave you a 48% chance of developing the condition. This reduced to
17% in non identical twins, it was concluded that schizophrenia has a strong genetic
basis, meaning MZ twins have a high concordance rate for schizophrenia. Concordance
rate is the extent to which two individuals are similar to each other in terms of a
particular trait. The second theory is on the basis of
neurotransmitters. Genes influence chemicals in the brain known as
neurotransmitters, which communicate across neurons in the brain. An imbalance of
neurotransmitters can lead to abnormal thinking, feelings and behaviour. For example,
studies have shown that depression is linked to an imbalance in a neurotransmitter
called serotonin, and schizophrenia could be the result of high levels of dopamine.
Another cause for the biological approach is abnormal neuroanatomy. This is
suggesting that brain deterioration is causing a certain disorder. Enlarged ventricles
have been found in the brains of schizophrenics due to the shrinkage of brain tissue
in certain studies, suggesting this could be another common cause of schizophrenia.
The final theory is viral infection. Genes or
microorganisms such as bacteria or viruses are known to produce disease. Some
mental illnesses are caused this way (i.e. general paresis). Microorganisms have also
been suggested as a cause of schizophrenia, Torrey found that there was an
increased incidence of schizophrenia in children whose mothers had the flu during
pregnancy and were therefore exposed to viruses in the womb.
Before forming an opinion on whether or not this is the correct approach for the
causes of abnormality, you must compare the contrasting strengths and
weaknesses. The limitations of these theories are as follows
The evidence does not support the cause and
effect link between mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and altered brain
chemistry. Schizophrenia is associated with an excess of the neurotransmitter within
the brain dopamine, but some studies of schizophrenic patients have shown reduced
levels of dopamine in some brain tissues, meaning that there may be simultaneous
excess and deficiencies in different parts of the brain.
Another weakness is whether the biological treatments are humane or inhumane.
Drugs and electroconvulsive therapy (the administration of a strong electric current that
passes through the brain to induce convulsions and coma and alter personalities) are now
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At first drugs were known to be helpful, however now some
psychologists argue that since disorders may not have physical causes, physical treatments
should not be used. Szas argues that drugs and E.C.T are only used for social control of
people with mental disorders, and this is unethical and inhumane.
The final limitation is that most of the evidence provided by the genetic
studies is inconclusive.…read more