- One psychological explanation of anorexia nervosa (AN) is a sociocultural explanation, referring to factors from within our society which can influence our behaviour. One sociocultural explanation is cultural ideals. It is widely believed that Western standards of attractiveness are an important contributory factor to the development of AN.
- Many teenagers; especially girls are dissatisfied with their weight due to emphasis on the attractiveness of being thin in Western cultures. This in turn can lead to AN due to the teenagers being dissatisfied with their weight and thus restrain themselves from eating in order to achieve the 'ideal' weight.
- Media influence also emphasises this view. The repeated exposure to thin models on the TV and in magazines is a significant contributory factor in body image concerns and the drive for thinness among Western adolescent girls.
- In particular individuals with low self-esteem are more likely to compare themselves to idealised images portrayed in the media. If people are constantly comparing themselves to these models, the drive of trying to look like them may result in the development of AN.
+ Empirical evidence has been found which supports the sociocultural explanation of AN. Becker (2002) studied eating attitudes and behaviour among Fijian girls following the introduction of television in 1995. The girls stated they had a desire to loose weight and to become more like Western television characters.
+ This evidence therefore shows that the media can have a profound influence upon a person's attitude towards their weight and their desire to be thin. With a desire to become thin a person is more likely to develop AN as an extreme result of them dieting/restricting food intake.
+ This evidence in turn increases the validity of the sociocultural explanations of AN as it upholds the assumption that the condition is a result of cultural and media influences.
- However there are methodological flaws to the supporting evidence. For example in Becker's study self-report methods were used in order to gain the findings on the girls attitudes. The main issue with this is that it leaves the study vulnerable to demand characteristics such as social desirability as people may not have answered honestly about their desire to lose weight. As a result we cannot be sure that the research in this area is accurate, thus resulting in the internal validity of the study being lowered.
- Due to the fact that research for this explanation lacks validity it makes it difficult to establish cause and effect between sociocultural influences of culture and mood and AN. Therefore we cannot be sure that culture and mood does in fact influence food preferences and so conclusions drawn from such studies should be used with caution.
- This also means that treatments designed to treat AN by focusing on cultural and media factors may not be as effective as we cannot be sure that it is indeed these factors which cause the condition.
- A further psychological explanation of AN is Bruch's psychodynamic theory. According to this explanation parenting can influence the development of AN. This can be explained by the distinctive features of effective and ineffective parents. For instance and effective parent would respond appropriately to their child's need, whereas an ineffective parent would not. Ineffective parents tend to fail to respond accurately to their child's needs, for example they may feed their child when they are actually anxious instead of comforting them, and vice versa.
- Bruch proposed that in adolescence the child whom experienced ineffective parenting may want control in order to overcome their helplessness, and this may be done by ranking excessive control over their body shape which can then lead to AN.
- Furthermore personality has been found to have a significant influence over AN. It has be recurrently suggested that people with a perfectionism personality are more likely to develop AN due to the fact that they strive to be perfect in every area of their life and therefore want their body to look 'perfect' too. Therefore they will restrict their food intake in order to achieve idealistic thinness.
+ The explanation for the role of personality in the development of AN has strengths due to there being supporting evidence. For instance, Halmi (2000) found a strong correlation between perfectionism and AN. This is clear because the individuals who had a history of AN scored significantly higher on the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS) when compared to a group of healthy women.
+ Moreover it was found that the extent of perfectionism was directly related to the severity of the AN experienced. This supports the role of personality as a psychological explanation of AN due to the fact that it reinforces the assumption that concern for mistakes is found in individuals with AN, which holds truth according to the psychological explanation of personality in the development of the illness.
+ Due to the fact there is supporting evidence which clearly upholds the main assumptions of the psychological theory; it can be argued that this theory is reliable.
- However one prominent issue with Bruch's psychodynamic theory is that it is based on the assumptions of the psychodynamic approach, which in itself has many flaws. The main objection of the psychodynamic approach is that it is not truly scientific because it is difficult to falsify and therefore pseudoscientific.
- Much of the research into this area relies heavily on an individual’s own thoughts and feelings which can never be measured empirically therefore meaning the studies lack objectivity, a key feature of psychology as a science.
- In turn this means that Bruch's psychodynamic theory, a branch off of the psychodynamic approach, lacks scientific features therefore affecting its validity as scientific methods cannot be used to establish a certain cause and effect. Because of this we cannot accurately conclude that Bruch's theory explains the true reasoning as to why people develop AN.
- The psychological explanations of AN sit on the reductionist side of the reductionist-holism debate. This is because only psychological explanations are considered and no thought is given to other factors such as our biology. This means that only one side of the argument has been considered which tends to lead to only half of the problem being treated.
- Being reductionist means we cannot establish a paradigm when considering reasons for AN as other approaches have been excluded.
- However being reductionist can also have its strengths as it allows us to analyse the psychological explanations for AN in greater depth and get a full valid understanding of that one factor alone.
- Overall, a holistic approach would be more appropriate as it would consider how differing factors interact together to cause the condition of AN. This would then result in more effective and appropriate conditions being established for those with the condition thus improving their chances of making a full recovery.