Approaches to abnormality- AQA A AS Psychology

Hey everyone

Here are some revision summary notes on the approaches to abnormality (Unit 2), these notes also include some studies and evaluative points 

Hope they help! :)


Psychodynamic Approach

The theory; (Developed by Freud);

  • Abnormal bahviour is determined by repressed childhood traumas
  • Therefore our parent could be to blame
  • Freud claimed the mind is divided into three parts, the id, superego and ego
  • The id are innate urges that must be gratified (e.glike adevil on your shoulder)
  • The superego are morals- the rights and the wrongs (for example like the angel on your shoulder)
  • The ego tries to balance these two out
  • The ego has defence systems to defend against stress
  • For example denial where a person refuses to accept stressful reality or rationalisation where a person tries to find a rational explanation for wrong doing much like a cover story
  • This theory also claims that personality develops through three psychosexual stages and that too much or too little pleasure at one of these stages causes abnormality
  • For example if a child focus too much on holding in faeces (The stage beginning with A sorry it stars the word out, im sure you knwo what I mean) this can lead to an adulthood where you are obsessively neat and tidy
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Evaluation points - Psychodynamic


  • Unscientific so can't be experimented therefore can't be proved
  • Puts the blame on parents
  • Freud focusses on childhood but never actually studied any children in depth
  • The case study of Little Hans in Freuds view supports his theory, Little Hans liked his Mother in an inappropriate way (he was very young) and saw his Dad as competition for his Mother. One day Little Hans saw a horse die in the street and developed a phobis of them, he began to associate his Father with this horse, he used to say things like 'trot' instead of 'go away'. Freud believed Hans was fixated at one of the psychosexual stages and that's why his love for his Mother got out of hands.
  • But Freud never actually came into contact with Little Hans or ever spoke to him or studied him
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Cognitive Approach

The theory;

  • This theory claims that all abnormal behaviour is caused by irrational thinking, this is when people develop negative thoughts about themselves 
  • Beck created a cognitive triad based on three negative schemas
  • The three components are,
        1.Negative thoughts and views about themselves
        2.Negative expectations of the future
        3.Distorted views of the world
  • Beck claimed these three components all link together to create a cycle of depression
  • Ellis' ABC model believes that abnormal behaviour is caused when people operate irrational beliefs
  • A= Activating event (for example failing a mock exam)
  • B= Beliefs (The person feels worthless because they have failed)
  • C= Consequence (They quit college because they think they are going to fail everything)
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Evaluation points - Cognitive


  • Too simplistic because it ignores other influences such as family
  • There is supporting evidence though- Clark found that panic disorder individuals exaggerated the the significance of anxiety symptoms showing that people with psychological disorders have dysfunctional thinking
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Behaviourist Approach

The theory;

  • All bahaviour is learnt from the environment
  • Two types of conditioning; Operant and Classical
  • Operant is where good behaviour is rewarded
  • Classical is where people learn by association 
  • This latter type of conditioning can be demonstrated by the case study of Little Albert
  • Little Albert was conditioned to have a phobia of rats. A rat was placed infront of him and when he tried to touch it a metal bar was banged behind his head. Soon he associated the banging noise with touching the rat and developed a fear of rats


  • Doesn't take into account genetic abnormalities such as schizophrenia
  • Doesn't think about free will, people still go against the law even though they know that it results in bad consequences like jail
  • There is media influence for example anorexia can be associated with the perfect body in maagazines when infact anorexia is a bad thing
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Biological Approach

The theory;

  • This approach claims that there are four main causes of abnormality, these are: 
    1. Brain injury
    3. Infection
    4. Genetics
  • Brown et al (2004) found that 14% of schizophrenic cases may have been linked to the foetus being exposed to a specific strain of the flu virus whilst in the mothers womb
  • People who suffer with schizophrenia have enlarged ventricles in the brain
  • Too much or too little of the neurotransmitter dopamine can lead to schizophrenia and high levels of serotonin can lead to depression
  • Gottesman and shields (1966) carried out a meta-analysis to see if there was any relationship between genetic make up and the onset of schizophrenia. 40 twins were studied, in monozygotic twins (developed from one fertilised ova) concordance rate (this means they were both diagnosed) was 42% and in dizygotic twins (developed from two separately fertilised ovum) concordance rate was only 9%, this concludes that genes play a part in the development of schizophrenia.
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Evaluation points - Biological


  • Very scientific hence its name
  • It is supported by scientific studies
  • Removes societies blame for the person causing their own illness

Evaluation of the Gottesman and Shields study;

  • Inconclusive because there was never a 100% concordance rate
  • Not very population valid because a very small sample of twins was experimented
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12 Mark exam questions

If you get a twelve mark exam essay question on one of these approaches, you could write what I have in these cards and get some good marks; because I had to make essay plans for every single 12marker that could come up in the unit 2 exam and when I handed these four to my teacher she said that they were very detailed and that I could achieve good marks in the exam
(...thats if I actually remember all the detail- thats why I have written them out in short bullet points to make it easier to study)

I hope they help! 


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Colours are a bbit crazy but i guess that makes it sink in more, good notes though :)

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