Explanations of Dysfunctional Behaviour - Behaviourist, Cognitive and Biological Explanations (with studies)

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Preview of Explanations of Dysfunctional Behaviour - Behaviourist, Cognitive and Biological Explanations (with studies)

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EXPLANATIONS of dysfunctional behaviour
1. Behaviourist (Watson and Rayner, 1920)
2. Biological (Wender et al, 1986)
3. Cognitive (Beck et al, 1974)
Behaviourist explanation of dysfunctional behaviour
One possible explanation of dysfunctional behaviour is given by the behaviourist
perspective in psychology. Broadly, this perspective assumes that we are born as a
blank slate, and thus all of our behaviours are learnt, either through conditioning,
which can be either classical conditioning or operant conditioning, or through social
learning. Operant conditioning involves behaviours being either positively or
negatively reinforced or punished, whilst classical conditioning refers to learning
through association. Thus, the behaviourist perspective would explain dysfunctional
behaviour as maladaptive behaviour occurring as the result of inappropriate
learning experiences.
One study which illustrates the behaviourist explanation is Watson and Rayner's
(1920) classical conditioning study of Little Albert. The aim of the study was to see if
a fear or phobia could be aroused and then generalised through classical conditioning.
It was a case study conducted in a laboratory with a single participant called Little
Albert, who was eleven months old during the study, and who was found to have no
fearful reactions to various items such as masks with hair, rats, rabbits or dogs. He did,
however, exhibit fearful reactions to the noise of a hammer striking a metal bar. Little
Albert was presented with a rat, and the fearful stimulus (noise) was presented at the
same time as he reached for the rat. This procedure was repeated over five sessions.
At first he cried and tried to move away from the rat-noise combination, but after the
five sessions, it was found that he exhibited a fearful reaction to the rat itself, as well
as various other similarly furry objects such as a rabbit, fur coat and a dog. Thus, it
was concluded that the dysfunctional behaviour of having an "irrational fear" or
phobia towards a category of objects could be produced in someone through the
operant conditioning process of positive punishment when an appropriate object is
presented to a person.
Biological explanation of dysfunctional behaviour
The biological approach to psychology is a reductionist and scientific approach which
explains behaviours in neurological terms, referring to aspects of biology such as
evolution, genetics and neurochemicals. The biological approach assumes that all
behaviour has physiological roots, and thus dysfunctional behaviour is assumed to be

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­ they are seen to have a disease that must be treated. This
way of thinking about dysfunctional behaviour is referred to as the medical or disease
model, which involves the study of what causes disease as well as underlying genetic
and biochemical factors. Epigenetics in particular explains dysfunctional behaviour
as the result of a genetic predisposition being triggered by somebody's social or
physical environment.…read more

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­ this type of depression is referred to as reactive
depression. The study conducted by Beck et al went into this theory more specifically,
and its results are characteristic of (and consequentially support) how cognitive
psychology explains depression. Beck et al used a sample of 50 patients with clinical
depression, most of who were middle class and had at least average intelligence.…read more


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