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The Biological Approach
One assumption of the Biological Approach is that behaviour can be explained in terms of brain
structure and if one area of the brain is damaged, a particular function is impaired or destroyed. The
cerebral cortex responsible for higher cognitive functions can be divided into four lobes including the
frontal lobe for fine motor movement and thinking and the occipital lobe for vision. Under the
cerebral cortex there are sub-cortical structures such as the hypothalamus which integrates the ANS
(important in stress and emotion).
Another assumption is that behaviour can be explained in terms of neurotransmitters. Neurons are
electrically excitable cells which can communicate with each other with neurotransmitters. When one
neuron receives an electrical impulse from the brain, neurotransmitters are released from the
presynaptic vesicle into the 20nm synaptic cleft and either stimulate or inhibit receptors on the
second neuron. Examples of neurotransmitters are dopamine (associated with rewards and
schizophrenia) and GABA (decreases anxiety).
Seyle worked in a hospital and noticed that regardless of illness, all patients shared a common set of
symptoms which led him to develop the GAS model (general adaptation syndrome) which is said to
be how we cope with stress.
The first stage of the GAS model is the alarm stage whereby the hypothalamus sends signals to the
adrenal glands to release adrenaline in order to prepare the body for the "fight or flight" response.
Other symptoms of this stage include increased heart rate, breathing and sweat production.
The next stage is the resistance stage. During this stage the body appears to be coping with the
stressor but is being gradually depleted in resources such as adrenaline and cortisol.
During the last stage, exhaustion, the body can not cope with the level of resistance and symptoms
similar to those in the alarm stage reappear. The body is also susceptible to illness during this stage
due to the lack of essential proteins such as cortisol avaliable. Other symptoms of this stage include
high blood pressure and even cardiovascular disease.
In order to back up his theory, Seyle conducted a study involving rats in 1938. During this study he
exposed rats to various noxious agents including intoxications, cutting of the spinal cord and common
Between 6 and 48 hours all rats produced the same symptoms mentioned in the alarm stage
including enlargement of the adrenal glands and a shrinkage of the immune system. After a certain
period of time the symptoms mentioned virtually disappeared suggesting the rats had entered the
resistance stage. However, after a time period of between 1 and 3 months (depending on the
severity of the noxious agent), all the symptoms mentioned during the first stage reappeared.
The results of the experiment with rats show the non-specificity of the three stages as all rats
experienced them regardless of noxious agent, and supported Seyle's theory.
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The Biological Approach assumes that behaviour can be explained in terms of neurotransmitters and
that a shortage or too much of a certain neurotransmitter leads to disordered behaviour. The aim of
chemotherapy is to fix imbalances of neurotransmitters through the use of psychoactive drugs and
therefore treat disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
Antipsychotics are used to treat the positive symptoms of schizophrenia (which are an excess of
normal functions) and can be divided into two groups- conventional and atypical antipsychotics.…read more
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One weakness of the Biological approach is that it is nomothetic. This approach believes that all
individuals are made of the same biological systems and therefore any research can be generalised,
however research has shown that individuals are different. For example, it has been found that
people produce different levels of adrenaline when stressed which ultimately affects the long term
effects of stress- the GAS model ignores this.…read more
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The Biological Approach assumes that areas of the brain and brain activity is responsible for
behaviour. Brain scans such as the EEG, CAT, MRI and PET scans are used in order to support this.
EEG scans work by placing electrodes on the brain to measure activity. Although these scans have
revealed valuable information such as sleep stages, they can not locate the exact active area of the
brain and therefore lack precision.…read more