Approaches to Abormality


The Biological Approach

1) Physiological Cause

  • This approach assumes abnomality is due to an underlying physical abnormality or disease in the body. In particular, it looks at the physical structure and functioning of the brain
  • For instance, psychiatrists diagnose mental illnesses by comparing symptoms to the symptoms listed on an official classisication system for diseases. The underlying problem may be a result of;

2) Genetic Inheritance

  • Genes continan the material inherited from parents. The consist of DNA and are found on chromosomes in cell nuclei
  • Faulty genes may cause abnormality. In most cases, people do not inherit the disorder itself, but rather a predisposition to develop the disorder
  • One way pshchologists have tested genetic inheritence is by using twin studies. Holland et al inverstigated whether there was a genetic link for anorexia nervosa. They compared monozygotic twins (MZ) and dizygotic twins (DZ) where one of each pair had anorexia
  • MZ twins are 100% genetically identical whereas DZ twins are only 50% genetically identical
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The Biological Approach

  • The concordance rate for MZ twins was 56% whereas for DZ twins it was 7%. This supports the view that anorexia nervosa is partially genetic but it cannot be entirely genetic otherwise the concordence rate would be 100%. Therefore another factor must be involved in causing anorexia nervosa

3) Chemical imbalances in the brain and body may be involved in certain mental illnesses 

  • For example, it has been found that schizophrenic parients have excessive amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine in their brains, whilst people with depression may be short of the neurotransmitter seratonin

Evaluation of the Biological Approach

  • Although it is very successful in explaining some disorders, e.g. schizophrenia and huntingtons disease it does not easily explain all disorders e.g. phobias seem more likely to have been learned than inherited
  • The approach tends to ignore cultural and phychological factors that might be involved in abnormal behaviour
  • The approach removes the blame from the person suffering, so it could be considered more humane
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The Behavioural Approach

  • This apporach assumes that abnormal behaviour is learned. It assumes all behaviour is learned, but abnormal behaviour is the result of faulty learning. This may occur in three ways;

Classical Conditioning;

  • The person learns to associate an object or event with an emotional or unconscious stimulus
  • For example, Watson and Rayner caused Little Albert to have a phobia of rats
  • Each time they gave Albert a white rat, which he liked to play with they made a loud noise which he didn't like. This loud noise made him cry. After this had been done a number of times he cried whenever he saw a white rat, even when there was no loud bang. Therefore he gained a phobia through classical conditioning

Operant Conditioning

  • This assumes that if behaviour is reinforced (rewarded) it is more likely to be repeated
  • For example, if someone cries a great deal and withdraws from their friends and family (signs of depression) their friends and family will probably show concern
  • This concern could be a form of attention which acts as reinforcement, making the depressive symptoms more likely to continue
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The Behavioural Approach

Social Learning Theory

  • This assums that abnormal behaviour is learned through observing a role model such as a friend or parent behaving abnormally and then imitating their behaviour
  • For example, a child who has a parent with a phobia of spiders may learn to fear spiders through observation. If they see their role model being positively reinforced for the observed behaviour (vicarious reinforcement) then they are more likely to imitate it
  • This has also been shown in animals e.g. Mineka found that monkeys might develop a phobia of snakes by watching another monkey show fear of snakes. It is reasonable to suppose the same process would apply to humans

Evaluation of the Behavioural Approach

  • The model focuses on observable behaviour and therefore may fail to deal with underlying deper psychological problems. Many have criticised it for a narrow and deterministic view that reduces complex behaviour to simple learned responses
  • The model makes claims for greater scientific validity (in comparison to the psychodynamic model) as there are many experiments to support the model. However, the experiments are often based on animals and the results may not be applicable to humans
  • The model is oversimplified and ignores biological and cognitive factors
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The Cognitive Approach

Assumption 1

  • Behaviour is primarily affects by a person's thoughts. If an individual perceives, anticipates and evaluates events in an abnormal way, then their behaviour will be abnormal. For example, depression will result from abnormal negative thinking

The A-B-C of thinking

A= Activating event e.g. Waking up in the morning

B= Beliefs e.g. 'I can't cope' or 'I will never get better'

C= Concequences e.g. Feeling of hopelessness and dispair, Behaviour of staying in bed and Physical symptoms such as tiredness and anxiety

  • The negative thoughts and assumptions are the target of cognitive therapy
  • Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings, unpleasant physical symptoms ect
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The Cognitive Approach

Assumption 2

  • There are a number of different forms of faulty thinking.These include cognitive errors and the cognitive triad

Negative Views about World

Negative Views about oneself                                    Negative views about the future

  • The triad involves unrealistically negative views about self, the world and the future. According to Beck, this negative outlook would have originated in childhood, perhaps due to bereavement, overly critcal parents or teachers
  • E.g. a depressed person has developed a negative set of schemas upon which their expectations about life are based
  • These negative schemas are caused by cognitive biases e.g overgeneralisation, magnification of errors and minimisation of successes
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The Cognitive Approach

Assumption 3

  • This model sees the individual as being in control of their own thoughts. People have free will and can change. 
  • This is different to the other models which are all deterministic

Assumption 4

  • Treatment of depression can be achieved by changing abnormal, negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive, healthy ones. The change in thoughts will then lead to a change in behaviour

Evaluation of the Cognitive Approach

  • The model has high face validity i.e. it seems reasonable to suggest that the way people think about and interpret events will affect how they feel and behave, so people whose thinking is distorted are likely to engage in abnormal behaviours
  • The cognitive approach ignores biological factors that may be involved in abnormal behaviour
  • It is not clear if irrational thoughts are the cause of abnormal behaviour of just the result of the disorder. It does not explain where the negative thoughts come from in the first place
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The Psychodynamic Approach

1) Psychological Cause

  • It assumes that abnormality has a psychological cause and abnormal behaviours are symptoms of unresolved conflicts and traumas often from early childhood that have been repressed so that we do not remember them, but they affect our behaviour without our realising it 

2) Conflict in the psyche

  • Conflict between the three parts of the personality (psyche) causes anxiety
  • The three parts are the Id which is present at birth and consists of basic drives and desires, the ego, which develops later and tries to control the Id and the superego, which includes the conscience
  • The Id and superego are in conflict and the ego tries to control them. If the conflict causes severe anxiety, an anxiety disorder may develop without the person knowing why

3) Importance of early experiences

  • Many mental illnesses stem from traumas in childhood. In childhood, the ego is not developed enough to deal with traumas, so they may be repressed
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The Psychodynamic Approach

Evaluation of the Psychodynamic Approach

  • The psychodynamic model focuses on the individual and the individual's experiences. It rejects the biological model's view that abnormality is distinct from normality and some argue it is a more understanding approach than the biological approach
  • Concept such as the Id, Ego and Superego cannot be directly observed and there is no scientific validation of the theory, particularly as the theory relies so heavily on the subjective interpretation of case studies. However, the idea that our behaviour is,in part determined by unconscious desires and feelings is widely accepted and used in our everyday lives, suggesting it does have a meaning and vailidity
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