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Chapter 2

PS280 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Dependent Personality Disorder, Parasympathetic Nervous System, Labeling Theory


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Kathy Foxall

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PS280 Chapter 2
Theoretical Perspectives on Abnormal Behaviour
The General Nature of Theories
What is a Theory?
A way of interpreting, viewing, or explaining behaviour; like a lens that is used to
see or understand a phenomenon in a particular way
Theories are based on principles, rules, norms, beliefs, and/or observations
Theories direct research, guide diagnostic decisions, and define treatment
Naturalistic Theories have considered abnormal behaviour to be the result of
either biological causes (nature) or environmental factors (nurture)
Biological theories require researchers and clinicians look for a biological basis
for disordered behaviour
o They rely on a classification system that identifies the person as being
o The focus of treatment also relies on physical interventions
Using an Environmental lens, researchers and clinician look for environmental
events that shape behaviour
o There is an emphasis on classification of disorders rather than
classification of people
o Treatment approaches involve manipulating or changing the environment
or modifying the individual’s perceptions of the environment
Levels of Theories
When biological or psychological perspectives are applied to specific problems,
they become theories that detail the supposed causal chain that leads to
dysfunctional behaviour
Two main explanations are used: single factor explanations and Interactionist
Single Factor Explanations
Attempts to tract the origins of a particular disorder to one factor
I.e. single factor explanation of social anxiety may be that it runs in families
Most of these models reflect the primary focus of the researcher/theorist/clinician
rather than the belief that there really is a single cause
However, human behaviour is unlikely to be the product of a single defect or
Limited in their power to explain behaviour or to suggest appropriate treatments
Interactionist Explanations
View behaviour as the product of the interaction of a variety of factors
Generally make more satisfactory theories
Take into account the biology and behaviour of the individual, as well as the
cognitive, social, and cultural environment
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Levels of Explanations
5 levels of explanation that theories address
1. All human behaviour i.e. Maslow’s theory of self-actualization
2. All abnormal behaviour i.e. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory
3. All disorders in a particular category i.e. Millon’s theory on personality
4. All causes of a particular problem i.e. Watson’s theory of a phobic
disorder as a classical conditioning response
5. Influence of a single factor for a problem within a general theory i.e.
lack of intimacy in sexual disorders
The Value of Theories
Theories generate research that increase knowledge and new approaches for
Theories do not always turn out to be valid or true, but they should be abandoned
only when something better comes along
A theory is valuable not because it describes an enduring truth or is one that
ALWAYS makes sense and is CONSISTENTLY upheld, but rather because it
embodies three essential features:
1. The theory integrates most of what is currently known about the
phenomenon or problem in the simplest way possible
2. The theory makes testable predictions about a phenomenon or problem
that were not previous thought of (in other words, it makes a contribution
to knowledge)
3. The theory makes it possible to specify what evidence would deny its
validity (the null hypothesis)
Testing Theories: The Null Hypothesis
Theories are not replaced because the evidence against them is significant, but
rather because another theory comes along that is open to being disproved and
that does a better job of integrating knowledge and generating novel predictions
Experiments are all about building the strength of a theory
Experiments do not set out to prove the worth of a theory/prove a theory true, but
rather to reject or fail to reject the theory
The process of doing this is called testing the null hypothesis
Theory gains strength when experiments that attempt to show that the hypothesis
is wrong fail
Research hypotheses are set up to define a predicted relationship among the
variables that are being investigated this is the H1
Null Hypothesis Essentially proposes that the prediction made from the theory
is false
o Predicts that there is no relationship between the variables and is
represented as H0
A theory can be viewed as strong and reliable if there are no data that contradict
its main tenants
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The Search for Causes
The general aims of theories about mental disorders are to:
1. Explain the Etiology (the causes or origins) of the problem behaviour
2. Identify the factors that maintain the behaviour
3. Predict the course of the disorder, and
4. Design effective treatments
Many different theories about mental disorders have been proposed: biological,
psychodynamic, learning (which includes behavioural or cognitive-behavioural
theories), cognitive, humanistic-experiential, and socio-cultural
The view that biological, behavioural, and environmental systems operate as a
whole system (the Interactionist approach) is gaining wide acceptance
The factors involved in the etiology of a problem may not be relevant to its
Even in disorders where there is a clear biological cause, environmental
manipulations may alleviate or even prevent the development of the most serious
Biological Models
Biological theories have primarily implicated dysfunctions in or damage to the
brain, problems of control of one or another aspect of the peripheral nervous
system (the autonomic system or the somatic nervous system) or malfunctioning
of the endocrine system
The Role of the Central Nervous System
Hindbrain Directions functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which
controls primarily internal activities i.e. digestion, cardiovascular functioning, and
Midbrain The centre of the reticular activating system, which controls arousal
levels and attention processes
Forebrain Controls thought, speech, perception, memory, learning, and
Some disorders are directly linked to brain damage (loss of or ineffective
functioning of brain cells), in many cases this is irreversible and may result from
various sources such as head injuries, diseases, or toxins
Neurotransmitters The chemical substances that carry the messages from one
neuron to the next in the pathways of nervous activity within the brain
o I.e. dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA
Abnormal behaviour can result from disturbances in neurotransmitter systems in
various ways:
o Too much/too little of neurotransmitter produced or released into synapse
o Too few/too many receptors on the dendrites
o Excess/deficit in amount of transmitter-deactivating substance in the
o The reuptake process may be too rapid or too slow
o Any of these issues may result in too much excitation/inhibition and result
in abnormal functioning
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