Approaches to psychopathology

Approaches of abnormailty

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  • Created by: Dharini
  • Created on: 19-04-12 13:41

Biological Approach

Brain Injury

  • Tumour, strokes, or damage may cause an abnormailty
  • Phineas Gage - Personality changed


  • The idea that bacteria and viruses can cause a mental illness
  • Brown et al found that a pregnant women that suffer from the influenza have 14% chance of the child developing schizophrenia later in life


  • The idea that an excess or deficiency of neurotransmitters is a possible cause of mental illnesses


  • Holland et al suggests that closely related family members like twins have a higher chance of both developing an eating disorder -- 45 Twins (25 MZ 20 DZ) Mz (Identical twins) were more likely to both develop anorexia. 56% MZ 5% DZ (non-identical twins)
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Biological approach AO2


+ Genetics -> There is research into behavioural genetics which have identified a genetic component in many psychopathology like bipolar, schizophrneia and phobias

- Reductionist -> Assumes biological approach is the most important aspect of any behavioural changes in the brain rather than symptoms, behaviour and environmental influences

- Individual differences -> Although drug treatments can provide support for this approach, they arent affective for everyone suffering from a particular disorder. For some disorders like phobias or eating disorders, it can be very uneffective.

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Cognitive approach

Beck - Used the cognitive triad (or the negative triad) to explain the irrational thoughts processes that depressed patients had. According to Beck they experience unrealistic thoughts relating to themselves, the world and the future.

Several basic assumptions

1 Human behaviour is heavily influenced by schemata. Many schemata relate to how we see ourselves.

2 Schemata develop on early life experiences, therefore negative or traumatic events may lead to the negative and unhappy schemata.

3 -ve schemata when activated lead to negative automatic thoughts (NATs) -- unconscious or rapid responses  to certain situations. These stop people focusing on the +ve side of life and therefore reinforcing -ve views.


Proposed a model which explains how irrational thoughts can prevent an individual from behaving in an adaptive way. This was called the A-B-C model.

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Cognitive approach AO2


+ Clear evidence -> Most popular psychological approach to understanding and treating behavioural disorders. Clear evidence for cognitive biases and dysfunctional thinking. E.g Clarke found that an individual who experiences panic disorders may exaggerate the significance of anxiety symptoms such as raised heart rate.

+ Effective treatment -> CBT is a type of therapy based on the cognitive model which can be effective for anxiety disorders and depression. Also has a combination of behavioural and cognitive elements. It acknowledges that complex cognitive processes are important in psychological disorders.

- Over simplistic ->  Takes no account of the biological factors in psychopathology. Gottesman and Shield support that biology plays an important role in the cause of abnormality, and found that in identical twins (MZ) there was a concordance rate of 50% developing Schizophrenia suggesting a strong genetic link in the disorder.

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Behavioural approach

Emphasises the role of learning.

Classical Conditioning -> Watson and Rayner - 11 month old baby called Little Albert to fear fluffy animals. Did this by pairing tame white rat with a sudden loud noise. The noise caused fear, equivalent of the salivation in Pavlovs experiment, and the rat was equivalent of the bell. Eventually the rat became associated with the loud noise therefore developing a phobia. This was generalised to all fluffy white objects which is called standard generalisation.

Operant Conditioning -> Skinner demonstrated  that voluntary or controlled responses could be learnt if the behaviour was rewarded.  He was able to show how quite complex patterns of behaviour could be learnt by schedules of reinforcement.

Social Learning theory -> Developed by Albert Bandura and is also known as Vicarious learning or modelling. This involves operant conditioning by seeing someone being rewarded for a behaviour and therefore modelling that behaviour.

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Behavioural approach AO2


+ Effective -> Treatments are effective as they have practical application. This leads to show that if it is effective, then it must be a correct explanation for that particular disorder. E.g Schizophrenia is thought to be an excess of dopamine. If drugs are given to decrease the amount of dopamine in your body, then schizophrenia should disappear, therefore showing the explanation for Schizophrenia.

- Reductionist -> Doesn't take the biological factors into account and suggests that we are simple mechanisms at the mercy of stimulus response. Therefore they might not be able to see the symptoms inside the body and the symptoms on the surface might mislead individuals to diagnose the wrong disorder.

- Treats symptoms not the cause -> This could lead to further development of the disorder while  they are treating the symptoms alone. E.g If an individual has schizophrenia and experiences hallucinations, they would be given a drug to stop them but the illness would still be progressing.

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Psychodynamic approach

Adult behaviour reflects complex dynamic interactions between conscious and unconscious processes, many of which develop from birth onwards. Freud proposed that personality is made up of 3 interacting elements: Id, Ego and Superego: Id= Instinctual, completely works on the "pleasure principle". Ego= Represents conscious self, develops during early childhood, tries to balance the demands of the superego and the id - reality principle. Superego= Personal and moral authority/conscience. This develops later in childhood through identifaction with parents, at which point the child internalises the moral rules and norms of society.

Defence mechanisms are where the ego tries to maintain the balance between id and superego, protecting itself from anxiety. These are called; Repression (most significant) - Threatening impulses pushed into unconscious so we are unaware of them. These repressed conflicts can resurface as symptoms of anxiety or other disorders. Displacement - unacceptable drive moved to more acceptable target. Lastly, Denial - When an individual refuses to accept that a certain event occured. E.g bereavement.

Another key element of Fread's theory is the psychosexual development. This states that a child goes through a series of stages where the instinctive energy of the id looks for gratification in different bodily areas. This is called the Erogenous Zones: Oral Stage : Fixation=Oral Gratification like smoking, eating or drinking. Also may show overdependance in relationships. Anal Stage : Fixation=OCD. Can also show obedience or disobedience. Phallic Stage : Fixation=May internalise Fathers views in fear of losing his love. Latency Period : Psychosexual development enters a latent period to re-emerge at puberty. Sexual feelings are directed at potential partners.

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Psychodynamic Approach AO2


+ First systematic model of abnormality that considered the psychological causes of abnormality -- significant.

- Difficult to generalise from individual causes.

- Doesn't consider adult experiences, as a result it ignores the range of experiences that can shape our behaviour.

- Id, Superego and Ego are difficult to define and research. This is because they are at an unconscious level so are very difficult to measure and no way of knowing they are occurring.

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