Social Explanation 2: Sociocultural Factors

  • Created by: curt703
  • Created on: 07-12-18 10:18


  • This means that more people are leaving rural areas and moving into urban areas. The biggest growth of urbanisation is in less developed countries.

  • Humans did not evolve to live in densely populated urban areas. It may be possible that this move towards urban living could account for some of the mental illness that we observe. One key finding that has been demonstrated time and time again (and is therefore reliable) is that the rate of schizophrenia in urban areas is much higher than in rural areas.

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Evidence Supporting Urbancity

  • Krabbendam and Van Os (2005) Identified some possible features of urban life that could be responsible for the increased risk of schizophrenia. These are environmental pollution, overcrowding, drug use and exposure to toxins and infectious agents. Some of the potential factors associated by Krabbendam and Van Os could link in with other explanations of schizophrenia:  

    • Urban areas have higher levels of drug and/or substance abuse. There is a lot of research that suggests a strong link between cannabis use and schizophrenia. Zammit et al (2002) found that cannabis use doubled the risk of schizophrenia in 40,000 Swedish males.

Stress could also increase the likelihood of schizophrenia in other ways such as maternal stress. Research has suggested that stress during pregnancy can lead to an increased risk of the illness in the children.

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Social Isolation

  • Another theory explains schizophrenia being related to social isolation. Schizophrenics are often very socially isolated than others. They may have few friends, be estranged from family, and are more likely to live alone. The simple explanation for this phenomenon is that the illness itself, and the behaviour that goes alongside it, causes the schizophrenic to be isolated from mainstream society.

  • It may be that the schizophrenic struggles to communicate with others, and their behaviour may prove disturbing and confusing, making it difficult to form close relationships. The isolation may also be self-imposed. The schizophrenic may find interaction with others to be stressful and confusing, and so they may retreat and withdraw from society.

  • Treatments for schizophrenia are much more effective if they are given as soon as the illness develops. However, the lack of social interaction in some people may also mean that symptoms of schizophrenia go unnoticed for a long time. By the time the illness has been diagnosed, the dysfunctional behaviour and thought patterns are too ingrained and may be resistant to treatment.  

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Evidence Supporting Social Isolation

  • Jones et al (1994) Found that those individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia were more likely to show solitary play preference at ages 4 and 6 years, and at 13 years were more likely to rate themselves as less socially confident.

    • Social interaction is vital for healthy emotional and psychological development. A lack of positive social interaction at an early age may leave children more prone to stress and social anxiety. Also, children who lack any social networks or social interaction may have no-one to provide feedback about their thoughts and behaviours. This lack of corrective feedback allows that individual to nurture these inappropriate ways of thinking and behaving, and so the strange behaviour can flourish unchecked.

  • This theory of social isolation also ties in with the theory of urbancity. It is often argued that people who live in cities are much more socially isolated and lonely than people who live in close knit communities such as rural villages.

  • Van Os (2000) He claimed that single people who lived in neighbourhoods with few other single people were at greater risk of developing schizophrenia, arguably because this increased the individual’s isolation and loneliness. An additional finding from Van Os is that a person was more likely to be schizophrenic if they were foreign born, unemployed or dependant on welfare. These indicators are not in themselves such as issue. They only have an effect if an individual finds that they stand out within the neighbourhood for such indicators.

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Ethnicity and Discrimination

  • A consistent finding is that schizophrenia is much more prevalent in immigrants, and particularly, people of African descent.      

    • For example, Cochrane and Sashidharan (1995) found that black Afro-Caribbean immigrants in the UK are seven more times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than white people. Other studies have put this number at a more conservative 2-3 times risk. However, as a group, they are more likely to be forcibly admitted to psychiatric hospitals.   

  • While this evidence suggests that a bias in diagnosis exists, it doesn't give us any information about the nature of the bias. We could argue that the higher rate of schizophrenia in the migrant community may be due to discrimination and racism. The increased stress caused by being an immigrant or an ethnic minority may be the trigger that leads to a higher incidence of the disorder.

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Evidence Supporting Ethnic Discrimination

  • Cantor-Graee et al (2005) Performed a meta-analysis of previous studies into migration and schizophrenia. They concluded that a personal or family history of migration is an important risk factor for schizophrenia. This means that a person is not just a higher risk for schizophrenia if they themselves are a migrant, but also if they are the children of migrants.

  • Boydell et al (2004) Found that there were more cases of schizophrenia amongst migrant groups when they formed a small proportion of the local community. Presumably, in these cases, the discrimination and racism experienced by these groups would be higher than in areas where there were many more ethnic minorities.

Boydell et al (2001) Noted that incidence rates of schizophrenia increased in ethnic minorities as the proportion of ethnic minorities as the proportion of ethnic minorities in the locality fell, suggesting that social experience contributed to the illness.    

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Evaluation (Urbancity)

  • One of the biggest issues with the explanation that urbancity is the cause of schizophrenia is that there are just so many factors involved with living in a city that is almost impossible to untangle the influences that are actually responsible from the noise of the other factors aren’t.

    • This means that the theory, while adding to the discussion about the causes of the illness is much more descriptive than explanatory, meaning that the evidences describes the association, but not necessarily the mechanism by which it comes about.

  • Some of the factors associated with living in a city actually seem to contradict many of the explanations. City dwellers actually tend to be healthier than those who live in rural areas due to the easy access to healthcare and education. Which proposes that these people would have a lower chance of developing schizophrenia.

Another issue with this theory is that the rates of schizophrenia tend to be fairly even across cultures (Sartorius et al 1986). Given that a higher percentage of people in the Western world live in cities than in other parts of the world, we would expect a higher percentage of schizophrenics

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Evaluation (Social Isolation)

  • One issue with this theory is that, while it can explain how schizophrenia can be exacerbated by social isolation, it cannot provide a full explanation of the cause of the illness. According to this theory, the schizophrenia is already present when the individual starts to withdraw from social interaction. Therefore, it does not explain when the schizophrenia itself comes from.

  • However, unlike the other sociocultural factors investigated here, social isolation may lend itself to early intervention. Unlike ethnicity, discrimination or urbanicity, interventions can be put in place to help socialise children who are socially isolated in order to reduce the risk of schizophrenia.

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Evaluation (Ethnicity and Discrimination)

  • As with urbanicity, there are a great number of factors that could have an impact on the rates of schizophrenia. Therefore, we are unable to pin the cause of schizophrenia down to one factor.

    • It is almost impossible to untangle the effect of biological factors, racism, the stress of being an immigrant, or bias in the diagnosis system. In reality, it is likely to be a combination of all these factors.

  • Another issue is that the majority of psychologists conducting research tend to be well educated, white middle class. They may be culturally biased in conducting their research, and so the conclusions that they come to may not be accurate.

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Overall Evaluation

  • Sociocultural explanations of schizophrenia do not necessarily ignore genes, but they may downplay their importance. These theories focus on how the society and the culture in which someone lives may influence both the likelihood of them developing schizophrenia, as well as the maintenance or severity of their symptoms. The initial cause for the illness however may still be biological in nature. However, it could be argued that sociocultural theories downplay the importance of genes in the cause of schizophrenia.

    • However, the research presented here does seem to provide compelling evidence for the role that non biological factors can play in the illness.

  • However, one issue with much of the research carried out into poverty is that the researchers are unlikely to have lived in poverty themselves. This could cause them to be biased in their observations and may over or under emphasis the struggles that people in poverty face.

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