Psychology - PY1 Biological Approach

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Jade Elton
Biological approach
1a) Outline two assumptions of the Biological Approach (4 marks)
The first assumption of the biological terms of neurotransmitters; Neurons transmit electrical messages at the
synapse via chemical messengers (neurotransmitters). Abnormal behaviour, therefore, is caused by chemical
imbalances. For example, too much dopamine is linked with the mental illness schizophrenia.
The second is that behaviour can be explained in terms of localisations of the brain: the cerebral cortex,
covering the surface of the brain, is divided into four lobes, each lobe being responsible different functions. If
there is damage to a small area of the brain, specific functions may be lost. For example, the frontal lobe is
responsible for movement, and damage to this area can cause paralysis.
1b) Describe Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome (8 marks)
According to Selye (1847), the General Adaptation Syndrome represents the body's defence against stress.
Selye suggested that our responses to stress are universal, i.e. we all have the same patterns of physiological
Selye discovered that hospital patients shared a common set of symptoms (e.g. aches, pains) no matter what
was actually wrong with them. He then investigated how rats responded to stressful stimuli, and theorised
from this that changes in mammals due to a was universal.
Selye proposed that there are three stages in the General Adaptation Syndrome. Stage one is the alarm
stage: the threat or stressor is recognised and both the Autonomic nervous system and endocrine system are
activated, and the hypothalamus triggers the production of adrenaline from the adrenal glands. This causes
symptoms such as increased heart and respiration rate, dilated pupils etc.; the fight or flight mode has been
activated. Here the body takes energy away from non-essential systems such as the digestive system ready
for use.
If the treat or stressor is not removed, the body will enter stage two; the resistance stage. The Sympathetic
nervous system returns to normal but the body continues to use other hormones, such as Cortisol, to resist the
effects of the stressor. During this stage there is more careful use of the body's resources. However, the
effects of persistently elevated hormone can lead to illness and the exhaustion stage.
In the exhaustion stage, the physiological systems become depleted and ineffective. Stress-related illnesses,
e.g. hypertension, heat disease etc., become more likely. Selye also found that if a second source of stress
was introduced during the exhaustion stage it could have devastating consequences for the health of the
2) Describe how the Biological Approach has been applied in psychosurgery (12 marks)
The Biological approach argues that functioning and the structure of the brain governs behaviour, and mental
illnesses have a physical cause. Therefore, destruction of brain area causing abnormal behaviour should
reduce the suffering of the individual.
The aim if psychosurgery is to deliberately destroy defective brain tissue that controls our emotional
responses, in an attempt to cure/alleviate mental illnesses such as clinical depression.
The destruction of brain tissue has a long history going back to trepanning, which involved drilling a hole
through the skull, and the lobotomy (crude destruction of brain tissue).
Psychosurgery was pioneered by Antonio Moniz, who performed the first pre-frontal leucotomies on
Schizophrenics. He performed around 100 of these operations, in which circuits connection the frontal lobes of
the cortex with sub-cortical brain areas is cut.

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Jade Elton
Freeman and Watts modified Moniz's technique by inserting a scalpel into the eye-socket, known as the
trans-orbital lobotomy. 10 000 of these were conducted, 20% on Schizophrenics.
In recent times, neurosurgeons have developed far more precise ways of treating mental disorders that fail to
respond to psychotherapy or other forms of treatment. It is used as a last resort to treat disorders such as OCD,
depression and severe aggression.
Psychosurgery is now possible without cutting through the skull.…read more

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Jade Elton
A second strength is that lab studies control the variables, thus ensuring that the IV has produced the change
in the DV (cause and effect established.) Due to controlling variables, Dement and Kleitman were able to
establish that dreaming only occurs in REM sleep.
One weakness is that, as of the artificiality of the lab situation, the experiments lack ecological validity.…read more


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