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The behavioural approach
Mental illnesses can be caused by experiences that we have in life rather than
biological or psychodynamic reasons. Abnormality is seen as the development of
behaviour patterns, through classical and operant conditioning, which are
maladaptive for the individual. Most learned behaviours are adaptive, helping us to
lead happy and successful lives, however, some maladaptive behaviour from the
same way as these adaptive ones.
Learning through association. A neutral stimulus is paired with an
unconditioned stimulus leading to a new stimulus- response link. The neutral
stimulus is now a conditioned stimulus resulting in a conditioned response.
This applies to emotional learning as well as to behaviours. This can be used
to explain phobias, assuming the feared object (rat or a spider) is
associated with a fear from the past.
The conditioned stimulus creates a fearful response, characterised by
avoidance of the feared object and the emotion of fear whenever the object
Learning occurs through reinforcement. An animal responds to its
environment and some of these responses are reinforced which increases the
probability that they will be repeated. If a response is punished then this
will decrease the chances of the action being repeated.
Psychological disorders are produced whenever a maladaptive behaviour is
rewarded, so these behaviours may be functional for the individual at least
for the time they are learned. For example, if a child finds he/she gets
more attention from his/her parent when they have a panic attack, these
attacks can become more frequent and harder to stop.
A limited view
Behaviourist explanations of mental disorders have been criticised for
giving a limited view of factors that might cause abnormal behaviours.
Behaviourist explanations tend to ignore cognitive roles in the onset and
treatment of abnormality.
Although this approach lends itself to scientific validation, the actual
research hasn't always supported its claims. For example, conditioning
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However, phobias too many frequently encountered and potentially
frightening stimuli such as fast moving traffic are quite rare. Seligman
provided an explanation for this. He suggested that some basic anxieties
may be hard wired into the brain because they provided a survival
advantage to our ancestors. Therefore we are biologically prepared to
develop fear of small, quick and potentially dangerous animals but not too
fast moving traffic. Even though we don't live in these conditions anymore,
we are unable to stop responding in this way.…read more