Psychology: Psychopathology(Abnormality) Approaches

Full notes on the four main approaches to Abnormality.

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Behavioural Approach to Explaining Abnormality
Behavioural Psychologists believe that all our behaviour is learnt.
Watson, one of the founding fathers of behaviourism states that we are born with a
`blank slate'. Any behaviour that we act is all learnt from the environment around us.
E.g. a baby learns to be scared of fire.
Most behaviour we learn is adaptive and helps us lead happy and productive lives.
However maladaptive (undesirable) behaviour can also be learnt.
Behaviour is LEARNT and can be UNLEARNT
According to this approach there are three main ways in which behaviour is learnt:
1. Classical Conditioning
2. Operant Conditioning
3. Social Learning Theory
Classical Conditioning
Ivan Pavlov 1927 explained how behaviour is learnt through `stimulus, response;
A stimulus can be anything in the environment; e.g. if a balloon popped the
response would be flinching. If a pin is held to a balloon people would automatically
flinch as the pin is associated with the balloon popping.
There is a famous case study by Watson and Raynor where a baby `Little Albert' was
conditioned to be scared of rats.
At the beginning of the
experiment `Little Albert' was
NOT afraid of RATS.
During the experiment Albert
was presented with the RAT
once again. However this time
they made a loud noise
2. behind Albert.
From then on Albert ASSOCIATED the distress of
3. the loud noise with the rat. Whenever Albert saw
the white rats after that Albert would cry.
Therefore Little Albert had been classically
conditioned to be scared of rats. This shows that
behaviour is learnt.

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Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning is another way we can learn behaviour. Skinner 1974
explained how behaviour is influenced by the consequences of our actions.
There are two main types of reinforcements:
Positive Reinforcement: E.g. Star form
Negative Reinforcement: Taking away an I-form
Punishment: Giving an I-form
Operant conditioning works well on pets too.
Linking to abnormality: If childhood aggression is rewarded, behaviour is likely to be
repeated.…read more

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Strengths Weaknesses
Focus on behaviour: The fact that you Reductionist: Approach is accused of
can change your behaviour from being too simplistic (reductionist) as it
maladaptive to adaptive behaviour explains complex behaviour is simple
overcomes the stigma of the label terms. It ignores biological and cognitive
attached by the biological approach of theories. (Only accounts for nurture-not
abnormality (which you can't change). nature.…read more

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Cognitive Approach to Explaining Abnormality
This approach focuses on cognitive problems, (such as irrational thinking) in
abnormal functioning. Albert Ellis said the behavioural approach did not consider
our mental processes.
The point behind this approach is that the thinking (cognition) processes that
happen between a stimulus- then a response are responsible for the feeling that
forms part of the response.
Distortions in our thinking process can link to emotional problems. Distorted views
Negative thoughts
Irrational beliefs, such as polarised thinking (e.g.…read more

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The Cognitive Triad: These are three forms of negative thinking that Beck thought
were typical of people suffering from depression.
Errors in Logic: Beck found depressed people tend to make logical conclusions when
they evaluate themselves.
Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings, which in turn lead to depression; Links
errors in logic to abnormality.
Research Support: Shown many people suffering from mental disorders
to have patterns linking to maladaptive thinking.…read more

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The Psychodynamic Approach
This approach begins to look at the `dynamics' of our behaviour, (why we do
what we do. It focuses on past experiences ­ especially relationships with our
parents. The origins of the Psychodynamic approach stem from the work of
Sigmund Freud. There are 3 main areas of Freud's work which we will use to
link to abnormality:
1. Structure of the `Psyche'
2. Defence Mechanisms
3. Psychosexual Stages
Structure of the `Psyche'
Id: Instincts
·Acts on the pleasure principle. Expects immediate gratification.…read more

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Defence Mechanisms
To cope with the demands of the Id and Super ego, the Ego uses defence
mechanisms. This is to reduce anxiety allowing the person to cope with life.
Everybody uses defence mechanisms.
Memories and experiences are
Repression pushed away to the back of the
Going back to a previous state of
You put your feelings/behaviour onto
someone else.
Acting like the situation is not
happening.…read more

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According to Freud, we can become fixated at a certain stage, if we do not
overcome the conflicts within that stage. If this happens this can then lead to
Fixation at a stage can lead to psychological or behavioural problems later
on in life.
For example:
Oral Fixation- Pleasure from the mouth is needed as an adult, such as
through heavy smoking and overeating. Also you can become
suspicious which can lead to paranoia.…read more

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Influential: First model to establish talking therapy as a treatment in
mainstream mental health practice; so not just drugs are used.
Un-testable: Can't test it scientifically, just Correlational as there is only
a link from childhood to adulthood. Therefore a cause and effect
cannot be established.
Retrospective Data: Data is collected from patients about the past.
Therefore the patients could have lied.
Deterministic: Claims abnormal behaviour is a definite result from the
unconscious conflicts in the mind. This therefore neglects
biological/environmental causes.…read more

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Biological Approach
The biological approach suggests that we are born with all
abnormalities/behaviours. It claims that abnormal behaviour can be
determined by four main factors, Brain structure, Genetics, Infection and Bio
Chemicals. They are all internal influences that determine whether a person
will have any abnormalities.
Infection: It has been suggested that bacteria or viruses can not only trigger
physical illness, such as the flu or meningitis, but can also cause mental
illnesses.…read more


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