Biological approach to psychopathology

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  • Created by: izzy
  • Created on: 13-06-13 13:47

The biological approach

The biological approach in psychology studies the relationship between behaviour and the body's various physiological systems. The most important of these is the nervous system, especaially the brain. The brain is the focus for most biological psychologists as it is the processing centre controlling all complex behaviour. This means that in theory all behaviour, normal and disordered, can be related to changes in brain activity.

In addition, over the last 20 years the study of brain and behaviour has been revolutionised by the increasing use of brain scanners; these enable us to study brain structure and function in living people, including those with conditions such as schizophrenia, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Assumptions of the biological approach

  • As all behaviour is associated with changes in brain function, psychopathology will be caused by changes in either the structure or function of the brain. This might involve changes, for example, in the relative size of brain structure, or in the activity of the brain neurotransmitters and hormones.
  • The development of the body, including the brain, is heavily influenced by genetics, and biological psychologists tend to assume that most behaviours, normal and disordered, involve a component inherited from the biological parents. So they are very much on the nature side of the nature-nuture debate.

However this is a most important distinction to be drawn between biological and genetic. Many people assume that they are pretty well  equivilant, so that if you find depression, for instance, is linked to low levels of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin the depression is likely to be a genetic or inherited condition. But this is not necessarily so. Brain activity is affected by all sorts of factors, including out environmentand our experiences. For instance, isolating monkeys from their social group leads to reduced activity of brain serotonin and also to a state that looks very much like depression. Life stress in also strongly linked to…


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