Approaches to Abnormality

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Approaches to Abnormality

The Biological Approach

Physiological Cause: This approach assumes that abnormality 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 those listed on an official classification system  for diseases in the same way a medical practitioner would do for physical illnesses. The underlying problem may be a result of:

1. Genetic Inheritance - Genes contain the material inherited from parents. They consist of DNA and are found in chromosomes in cell nuclei. Faulty genes may cause abnormality. In most cases people do not inherit the disorder, but rather the predispostition or vulnerability to the disorder. 

       One way psychologists have tested genetic inheritance is by using twin studies. Holland et Al investigated whether there was a genetic link for anorexia nervosa. They compared monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins, where one of each twin pair had anorexia. MZ twins are 100% genetically identical whereas DZ twins have only 50% in common. It was found that the concordance rate for MZ twins was 56%, whereas for DZ twins it was 7%. This supports the view that anorexia is partly genetic, but it cannot be entirely genetic or the concordence rate would be 100%. So some other factor must be involved in causing anorexia.

2. Faulty Biochemistry - Chemical imbalences in the brain and body may be involved in certain mental illnesses. For example, it has been found that schizophrenic patients have excessive amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine in their brains, whilst people with depression may be lacking the neurotransmitter seratonin. 

Evaluation of the Biological Approach

- Although it is very successful in explaining some disorders, it does not easily explain all disorders e.g. phobias seem more likely to be learned than the result of biological factors and some cases of depression are more likely to be a result of external factos than internal factors

- The approach tends to ignore cultural and psychological factors that might be involved the abnormal behaviour e.g. stressful life events that might cause anxiety or depression factors

- The approach could be considered more humane than other approaches as it removes the blame away from the person suffering from mental abnormality and places it onto the illness itself. The person is just unlucky to develop it in the same way as it they developed tonsilitis

Pshychological Approaches

1. Behavioural Approach 

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

1. Classical Conditioning- (Pavlov) 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 Little Albert a white rat (which he liked) to play with they made a loud noise (which he didn't like). The loud noise made him


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