Psychology - approaches to psychopathology

Approaches to psychopathology - Biological, behavioural, psychodynamic and cognitive

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Biological Approach assumptions

  • that all mental disorders are caused by a change in the body
  • that they can be treated as physical illnesses
  • they can be caused by genes, biochemistry, neuroanatomy or viral infection
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Biological Approach - Genetic Inheritance

  • Abnormalities in brain anatomy or chemistry are sometimes the result of GENETIC INHERITANCE - passed from parent to child
  • To study this we use twins - pairs of identical twins can be compared to see whether, when one twin has a disorder, the other will too (CONCORDANCE RATE)
  • Low concordance rates = phobias
  • High concordance rates = schizophrenia
  • There is a higher concordance rate of sz among monozygotic twins (48%) than among dizygotic twins (17%)
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Biological Approach Genes (biochemistry and neuroa

  • Genes tell the body how to function
  • They determine the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain
  • High serotonin = anxiety
  • Low serotonin = depression
  • Genes also determine the structure of the brain
  • Research has shown that schizophrenics have enlarged spaces in the brain, indicating shrinkage of brain tissue
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Biological Approach - Viral Infection

  • Research has shown that some mental illnesses can be caused by exposure to viruses when in the womb
  • Torrey found that the mothers of some sufferers of schizophrenia had contracted a certain type of influenza during pregnancy
  • The virus may enter the unborn child's brain and lay dormant until pregnance, in which hormones activate the symptoms of schizophrenia.
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Biological Approach - Limitations


  • Use of brain scanning techniques and more modern techniques have identified biological aspects to disorders (brain shrinkage)
  • Drug treatment that targets biological basis of disorder are effective


  • Reductionist - attempts to explain mental disorders at a fundamental level
  • Genetic concordance rates are never 100% - means that it is not the entire explanation, could be caused by other factors - DIATHESIS STRESS MODEL - someone has a genetic predisposition toa mental illness but the environment triggers the symptoms.
  • Drug treatments do not always work (placebos nearly as effective as drugs)
  • Only correlational links, not cause and effect
  • "inhumane" - Thomas Szasz argued that mental illness does not have a physcial basis and should not be thought of in the same way - he suggested that the concept of mental illness was invented as a form of social control
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