PSY 240 CH. 3
Causal Factors and Viewpoints
• Several schools of thought have developed elaborate models to explain the origins of
abnormal psychology and suggest how it may be treated.
Causes and Risk Factors forAbnormal Behaviour
• If we knew the causes, we may be able to prevent the conditions that lead to them.
• Causes will also help classify disorders better than simply relying on clusters of
• Investigators now often prefer to speak of risk factors as opposed to causes.
Necessary, Sufficient, and Contributory Causes
• Etiology: Causal pattern of abnormal behaviour.
• Necessary Cause: A condition that must exist for a disorder to occur.
• Many psychological disorders do not seem to have necessary causes.
• Sufficient cause: A condition that guarantees the occurrence of a disorder.
• Contributory cause: A condition that increases the probability of developing a disorder
but that is neither necessary nor sufficient for it to occur.
• Distal causal factors are factors that predispose an individual to a disorder, but may not
be evident for many years.
• Proximal causal factors happen shortly before the occurrence of symptoms for the
• Areinforcing contributory cause is a condition that tends to maintain maladaptive
behaviour that is already occurring.
Feedback and Circularity in Abnormal Behaviour
• When more than one causal factor is involved, the term causal pattern is used.
• Apredisposition or vulnerability toward developing a disorder is termed a diathesis.
• Diathesis-stress model: View of abnormal behaviour as the result of stress operating on
an individual who has a biological, psychosocial, or sociocultural predisposition to
developing a specific disorder.
• The diathesis is not enough to cause the disorder itself; it needs a proximal cause to
activate it. The proximal cause is also not sufficient to cause the disorder itself, it needs a
• There are multiple models for how a diathesis and a stressor combine to reduce a
• The additive model: Individuals who have high levels of a diathesis may need only a
small amount of stress before a disorder develops. Those with low levels of the diathesis,
will need large amounts of a stressor.
• The interactive model: Some amounts of diathesis must be present before stress will have
• Protective factors: Influences that modify a person’s response to an environmental
stressor, making it less likely that the person will experience the adverse effects of the
stressor. • Protective factors are not necessarily positive experiences. This inoculation is most likely
to occur with a moderate stressor than a severe or mild stressor.
• Resilience: The ability to adapt successfully to even very difficult circumstances.
• Resiliency is often used in 3 situations: 1) good outcomes despite high risk status, 2)
sustained competence under threat, and 3) recovery from trauma.
• Resiliency is not a prescription to not get affected by stressors. It is also possible to be
resilient in one domain but have low resiliency in another domain.
3.1 Canadian Focus: Studying resilience in Children, Youth, and Families
o Dr. Michael Ungar’s definition of resilience: Both an individual’s capacity to navigate to
health resources and a condition of those individual’s family, community, and culture to
provide those resources.
o The International Resilience Project: Purpose is to better understand how children in
different cultures cope with the adversity they face. The first phase tested out the research
method to be used. The second phase (currently underway) involves examining the
culturally varied ways in which children cope with adversity.
o Negotiating Resilience:A3 year project whose focus is to study the ways in which
children cope with being out of place.
o Pathways to Resilience:A3 year study with the dual aim of examining service use
patterns among at-risk youth and understanding of how taking advantage of these
opportunities in the community can lead to healthier outcomes.
o Stories of Transition: Study with a goal of developing an understanding of supports,
roadblocks, and detours that affect the educational and occupational paths that high
school students take after graduating.
• Developmental psychopathology: Field of psychology that focuses on determining what
is abnormal at any point in the developmental process by comparing and contrasting it
with normal and expected changes that occur.
Viewpoints For Understanding The Causes ofAbnormal Behaviour
• There are a number of competing viewpoints to describe behaviour.
• Each viewpoint is a theoretical construction devised to orient psychologists in the study
of abnormal behaviour.
• 3 shifts in abnormal psychology have recently occurred: 1)A newer biological viewpoint
is having a great impact.. 2) The behavioural and cognitive-behavioural viewpoints have
become very influential paradigms. 3)Asociocultural viewpoint has become fairly
• Biopsychosocial viewpoint: A viewpoint that acknowledges the interacting roles of
biological, psychosocial, and sociocultural factors in the origins of psychopathology.
The Biological Viewpoint and the Biological Causal Factors
• The disorders first recognized as having biological components were those associated
with deterioration of brain tissue.
• 4 categories of biological factors that seem relevant to the development of maladaptive
behaviour: 1) Neurotransmitter or hormone imbalances in the brain, 2) genetic
vulnerabilities, 3) temperament, and 4) brain dysfunction and neural plasticity.
Neurotransmitter and Hormonal Imbalances • Synapse: Site of communication from the axon of one neuron to the dendrites or cell body
of another neuron – a tiny filled space between neurons.
• Neurotransmitter: Chemical substances that are released into a synapse by the
presynaptic neuron and which transmit nerve impulses from one neuron to another.
Imbalances of Neurotransmitters
• Can occur through: Excess production and release of neurotransmitters, a dysfunction in
which neurotransmitters that are released become deactivated, problems with the
receptors on the postsynaptic neuron.
• Chemical circuits are when neurons that respond to a particular neurotransmitter group
together forming neural paths.
• 4 main neurotransmitters involved in disorders: 1) Norepinephrine, 2) dopamine, 3)
serotonin, and 4) GABA.
• 1-3 are monoamines because they are synthesized from a singleAA.
3.1 Development in Research: Neurotransmission andAbnormal Behaviour
o Nerve impulse: Cell body axon Terminal buttons Neurotransmitter release from
vesicles Synapse Receptors on postsynaptic neuron (dendrites) Neuron response
o The response can be inhibitory or excitatory.
o Neurotransmitters can be destroyed while in the synapse by monoamine oxidase.
Neurotransmitters can be returned to the presynaptic neuron through re-uptake.
• Hormones: Chemical messengers secreted by endocrine glands that regulate
development of and activity in various parts of the body.
• Pituitary gland: Endocrine gland associated with many regulatory functions.
• Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-cortex axis (HPA axis): Brain-endocrine system involved
in responding to stress in which the hypothalamus and pituitary send messages to the
adrenal gland which releases a stress hormone that feeds back on the hypothalamus.
• Activation of axis includes: 1) CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone) from the
hypothalamus to pituitary. 2) In response to CRH, pituitary releasesACTH
(adrenocorticotrophic hormone) which acts on the cortical part of the adrenal gland to
produce EP (epinephrine) and cortisol. 3) Cortisol provides negative feedback to the
hypothalamus and pituitary.
• Cortisol: Human stress hormone released by the cortex of the adrenal glands.
• Genes: Long molecules of DNA that are present at various locations on chromosomes
and that are responsible for the transmission of hereditary traits.
• Chromosomes: Chain-like structures within the cell nucleus that contains the genes.
• Neither behaviour nor psychological disorders are determined exclusively by genes.
• Most psychological disorders do not manifest themselves until adolescence, so this is
when most symptoms will occur.
• We have 46 chromosomes in human cells.Abnormalities in the chromosomes or number
of the chromosomes can result in major defects.
• Down syndrome for example, is a set of 3 chromosome 21s instead of 2.
• Psychological disorders are more from abnormalities in the genes on the chromosomes
than from abnormalities of the chromosomes themselves. • Most disorders are polygenic, they have multiple genes interacting.
• Genes can only affect behaviour indirectly though, as the environment plays a huge role.
The Relationship of Genotypes to Phenotypes
• Genotype: A person’s total genetic endowment.
• Phenotype: The observed structural and functional characteristics of a person that result
from interaction between the genotype and the environment.
• Genotype-environment correlation: Genotypic vulnerability that can shape a child’s
• 3 important ways a genotype may shape his/her environment: 1) The genotype may have
a passive effect on the environment resulting from the genetic similarity of parents and
children. 2) The child’s genotype may evoke particular kinds of reactions from the social
and physical environment (evocative effect). 3) The child’s genotype may play more of
an active role in shaping the environment (active effect).
• Genotype-environment interaction: Differential sensitivity or susceptibility to their
environments by people who have different genotypes.
Methods for Studying Genetic Influences
• Behaviour genetics: Field that studies the heritability of mental disorders and other
aspects of psychological functioning such as personality and intelligence.
• 3 primary methods in behavioural genetics: 1) The family history (or pedigree) method,
2) the twin method, and 3) the adoption method. Though 2 additional methods are more
recent in use (linkage studies and association studies).
• Family history (pedigree) method: Behaviour genetic research strategy that examines the
incidence of disorder in relatives of an index case to determine whether incidence
increases in proportion to the degree of the hereditary relationship.
• Index case refers to the subject, or carrier, of the trait or disorder in question.
• Limitation: People who are related genetically share similar environments.
• Twin method: The use of identical and non-identical twins to study genetic influences on
• Concordance rate: The percentage of twins sharing a disorder or trait.
• From twin studies, we can conclude that the environment has an effect on disorder
development as there are no incidences of a 100% concordance rate.
• Critics: The higher concordance rate in monozygotic twins than in dizygotic twins may
be caused by the similar treatment by parents, and not the environment as much.
• Adoption method: Comparison of biological and adoptive relatives with and without a
given disorder to assess genetic versus environmental influences.
3.2 Developments in Thinking: Nature, Nurture, and psychopathology:A new Look at an Old
o Misconceptions about studies of genetic influences on behaviour, traits, and
1) Strong genetic effects mean that environmental influences must be unimportant. Fact:
Even if we are discussion a trait or disorder that has a strong genetic influence,
environmental factors can have a major impact on the level of that trait. 2) Genes provide a limit to potential. Fact: One’s potential can change if one’s environment
3) Genetic strategies are of no value for studying environmental influences. Fact: The
opposite is true because genetic research strategies provide critical tests of environmental
influences on personality and psychopathology.
4) Nature and nurture are separate. Fact: Genetic effects ‘operate mainly through their effect
on susceptibility to environmental influences.’
5) Genetic effects diminish with age. Fact:Although any people assume that genetic effects
should be maximal at birth, with environmental influences getting stronger with
increasing age, it is now evident that this is not always true.
6) Disorders that run in families must be genetic, and those that do not run in families must
not be genetic. Fact: Many examples contradict these misconceptions.
Separating Genetic and Environmental Influences
• Shared environmental influences are those that would affect all children in a family
similarly, such as overcrowding, poverty, and sometimes family discord. Non-shared
environmental influences are those in which different children in a family differ.
LinkageAnalysis andAssociation Studies
• Linkage analysis and associative studies attempt to determine the actual location of
genes responsible for psychological disorders.
• Linkage analysis: Genetic research strategy in which occurrence of a disorder in an
extended family is compared with that of a genetic marker for a physical characteristic
or biological process that is known to be located on a particular chromosome.
• Genes closely linked to another gene have similar influences acting on them. So the
occurrence of both genes at the same time is higher.
• These studies are most successful for locating the genes for single gene brain disorders.
• Association studies: Genetic research strategy comparing frequency of certain genetic
markers known to be located on particular chromosomes in people with and without a
• If researchers find a particular marker that has a significant difference in frequencies
between those with the disorder and those without, the researchers can infer a
relationship between the disorder and that marker.
• Temperament: Pattern of emotional and arousal responses and characteristic ways of
self-regulation that are considered to be primarily hereditary or constitutional.
• Our early temperament is thought to be the basis through which our personality develops.
• 5 dimensions of temperament can be identified: fearfulness, irritability/frustration,
positive affect, activity level, and attentional persistence.
• These seem to be related to 3 important adult personalities: 1) Neuroticism or negative
emotionality, 2) extroversion or positive emotionality, and 3) constraint
(conscientiousness and agreeability).
• Temperament may set the stage for development of various forms of psychopathology
later in life.
Brain Dysfunction and Neural Plasticity
• The neural circuits can be modified or changed as we go through life. These changes can
be beneficial or detrimental. • The plasticity can be both pre-natal and post-natal.
• Developmental systems approach: Acknowledgement that genetic activity influences
neural activity, which in turn influences behaviour, which in turn influences the
environment, and that these influences are bidirectional.
The Impact of the Biological Viewpoint
• Misconception that most, if not all, psychological disorders are biological conditions with
• Mediated: A mediator (or mediating variable) lies between two other variables and helps
explain the relationship between them.
• Psychosocial treatments are often as effective as drugs in producing changes in brain
structure and function.
The Psychosocial Viewpoint
• 3 perspectives ion human nature and behaviour that have been particularly influential:
psychodynamic, behavioural, and cognitive-behavioural.
• 2 additional perspectives include the humanistic and existential perspective.
3.3 Developments in Thinking: Humanistic and Existential Perspectives
o The humanistic perspective:
- Views human nature as basically good.
- Emphasizes present conscious processes and places strong emphasis on people’s
inherent capacity for responsible self-direction.
- Certain underlying themes and principles of humanistic psychology can be identified,
including the self as a unifying theme and a focus on values and personal growth.
- Emphasize individuality.
- Carl Rogers’postulates on the self-concept: 1) Each individual exists in a private
world of experience of which the I, me, or myself is the centre. 2) The most basic
striving of an individual is toward the maintenance, enhancement, and actualization
of the self, and his or her inner tendencies are toward health and wholeness under
normal conditions. 3) Aperceived threat to the self is followed by a defence,
including a tightening of perception and behaviour and the introduction of self-
- According to this view, psychopathology is essentially the blocking or distortion of
personal growth and the natural tendency toward physical and mental health.
o The existential perspective:
- Emphasizes the uniqueness of the individual.
- Places emphasis on humans’irrational tendencies and the difficulties in self-
fulfillment – particularly in a modern, bureaucratic, and dehumanizing mass society.
- Basic themes of existentialism: 1) Existence and essence. Our existence is a given,
but what we make of it – our essence – is up to us. 2) Meaning and Value. The will-
to-meaning is a basic human tendency to find satisfying values and guide one’s life by
them. 3) Existential anxiety and the encounter with nothingness. Nonbeing, or
nothingness, which in its final form is death, is the inescapable fate of all humans.
- Much abnormal behaviour is the product of a failure to deal constructively with the
existential despair and frustration.
The Psychodynamic Perspectives • According to Freud, the conscious part of the mind represents a very small portion of it.
The unconscious mind was thought to be like the submerged part of an iceberg.
• Thought that the unconscious mind was filled with hurtful memories, forbidden desires,
and repressed experiences. Was thought that these come out in slips of the tongue,
dreams, and fantasies.
• Thought that keeping the unconscious hidden was what brought about maladaptive
Fundamentals of Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory
The Structure of Personality: Id, Ego, and Superego
• Id: The psychoanalytic theory, the reservoir of instinctual drives and the first
psychological structure to appear in infancy.
• These drives are inherited and are considered to be of 2 opposing types: 1) life instincts
(constructive drives primarily of a sexual nature and which constitutes the libido). 2)
death instincts (destructive drives that tends towards aggression).
• Libido: In psychoanalytic theory, a term used to describe the instinctual drives of the id;
that basic constructive energy of life, primarily sexual in nature.
• Pleasure principle: Demand that an instinctual need be immediately gratified, regardless
of reality or moral considerations.
• Primary process thinking: Gratification of id demands by means of imagery or fantasy
without the ability to undertake the realistic actions needed to meet those instinctual
• Ego: In psychoanalytic theory, the rational part of the personality that mediates the
demands of the id, the constraints of the superego, and the realities of the external world.
• One of the basic functions of the ego is to meet id demands, but in a way as to ensure the
well-being and survival of the individual.
• Secondary process thinking: Reality-oriented rational processes of the ego for dealing
with the external works and the exercise of control over id demands.
• Reality principle: Awareness of the demands of the environment and adjustment of
behaviour to meet these demands.
• Superego: Conscience; ethical or moral dimensions (attitudes) of personality.
• The ego is often called the executive branch of the personality.
• Intrapsychic conflicts: Inner mental struggles resulting from the interplay of the id, ego,
and the superego when the 3 subsystems are striving for different goals.
Anxiety, Defence Mechanisms, and the Unconscious
• Anxiety was believed to be a key in most psychopathology. Sometimes it is overtly
expressed and sometimes it is repressed and transformed into other overt symptoms.
• The ego can deal with anxiety through rational measures, but since moral and neurotic
anxiety are unconscious, the ego can’t rationalize them. When the ego can’t control the
anxiety, it takes to the ego-defence mechanism.
• Ego-defence mechanisms: Psychic mechanism that discharges or soothes anxiety rather
than coping directly with an anxiety-provoking situation; usually unconscious and
reality-distorting. AKA defence mechanism.
Table 3.1 Ego-Defence Mechanisms o Displacement: Discharging pent up feelings on objects less dangerous than those arousing
o Fixation: Being fixed in a stage of development or attaching yourself to someone.
o Projection:Attributing aspects of yourself onto others.
o Rationalization: Using contrived explanations to conceal unworthy motives.
o Reaction formation:Act in the opposite behaviour to what you feel not letting what you
truly feel come into awareness.
o Regression: Retreating to an earlier developmental time.
o Repression: Preventing painful thoughts from entering consciousness.
o Sublimination: Channeling frustrated sexual energy into substitutive activities.
Psychosexual Stages of Development
• Psychosexual stages of development: According to Freudian theory, there are 5 stages of
psychosexual development, each characterized by a dominant mode of achieving sexual
pleasure: the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latency stage, and the
• Oral stage: The