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PSYC 3230 (20)
Chapter

2. Theoretical Perspectives on Abnormal Behavior

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Department
Psychology
Course
PSYC 3230
Professor
James Alcock
Semester
Winter

Description
2. Theoretical Perspectives on Abnormal Behavior Sunday, January 27, 25:59 PM The general nature of theories Introduction • Two main streams of thought concerning mental disorders, roughly following the nature/nurture distinction ○ Biological perspective  Tends to dismiss or downplay the influence of experience in the development of disorders  Leads to the formulation of a diagnostic system that classifies people as disordered  Implies that physical interventions should be the treatments of choice ○ Behavioral perspective  Focuses on environmental influences  Tends to emphasize external factors (e.g., poverty, parenting style) in the development of disorders  Treatment involves either manipulating the environment or (for those who adopt a cognitive-behavioral perspective) modifying the perceptions people have regarding their experiences and themselves Biological Dysfunctional behavior is caused by factors beyond the individual's control Psychodynamic Humanistic Caused by factors within the individual's control • Existential Behavioral Caused by a mixture of internal and external factors Cognitive • The perspective taken when examining the cause of psychopathology… ○ Directs research ○ Guides diagnostic decisions ○ Defines treatment responses • No one perspective can provide a complete explanation for the origins of psychological disorders • A theory is useful not so much because it is true, but because it generates research that leads to an increase in knowledge ○ Theories are judged to be valuable not because they describe the enduring truth about an issue, but rather because they embody three essential features:  1) They integrate most of what is currently known about the phenomena in the simplest way possible (parsimonious)  2) They make testable predictions about aspects of the phenomenathat were not previously thought of (testable)  3) They make it possible to specify what evidence would deny the theory (falsifiable) Levels of theories • A single-factor explanationattempts to trace the origins of a particular disorder to one factor ○ Human behavior, in all its complexity, is unlikely to be the product of a single factor • Interactionist explanationsview behavior as the product of the interaction of a variety of factors ○ Generally produce more satisfactory theories in describing mental disorders Testing theories: The null hypothesis • Experiments are not set up to prove the worth of a theory but rather to reject (or fail to reject) the null hypothesis, which proposes that the prediction made from the theory is false • Theories gain strength not just because the evidence supports their predictions, but primarily because alternative explanations are rejected • No amount of evidence can ever prove the truth of a theory The search for causes • Four general aims of theories about mental disorders ○ 1) To explain the etiology (the cause or origins) of the problem behavior ○ 2) To identify the factors that maintain the behavior ○ 3) To predict the course of the disorder ○ 4) To design effective treatment • Factors involved in the etiology of a problem may net be relevant to its maintenance • Even in disorders where there is a clear biological cause, environmental manipulations may alleviate or even prevent the development of the most serious symptoms • Cognitive therapy has been shown to not only alter an individual's cognitive processes in order to reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety, but also to affect his or her neurobiology • The most popular theories regarding the etiology of mental disorders: ○ Biological ○ Psychodynamic ○ Behavioral or cognitive-behavioral ○ Cognitive ○ Humanistic/existential (examine interpersonal processes) ○ Socio-cultural • Strict biological determinism often leads to the dismal conclusion that psychological or environmental interventions will dono good • All of these etiological theories work in concert and it is almost impossible (if not meaningless) to disentangle their influence • We view behavior and thinking (whether normal or disordered) as arising from the integrated dynamic and inseparable interactions between multiple biological and environmental experiences Biological models Introduction Textbook Notes Page 1 Introduction • Biological theories have primarily implicated dysfunctions in or damage to the brain (the central nervous system), problems of control of one or another aspect of the peripheral nervous system, or malfunctioningof the endocrine system • The nervous system has two divisions: ○ Central nervous system (CNS) ○ Peripheral nervous system The role of the central nervous system • Interconnections throughout the brain indicate that no one area exclusively performs any one function ○ It is better to think of brain activity related to particular functions or actions not aslocated in a single area of the brain but asconcentrated in one or more areas • Current theories about the brain bases of abnormal behavior have given more weight to the role of neurotransmitters than to actual neuronal damage ○ Neurotransmittersare the chemical substances that carry the messages from one neuron to the next in the complex pathways of nervous activity within the brain • Abnormal behavior can result from disturbances in neurotransmitter systems in various ways: ○ 1) There may be too much or too little of the neurotransmitter produced or released into the synapse ○ 2) There may be too few or too many receptors on the dendrites ○ 3) There may be an excess or a deficit in the amount of the transmitter-deactivating substance in the synapse ○ 4) The reuptake process may be too rapid or too slow • Processes connecting behavior and the neurochemicalbases of brain activity do not represent a one-way street ○ Neurotransmitter activity affects behavior, but behavior also affects neurotransmitter activity • Brain plasticity-- the capability of the brain to reorganize its circuitry • Environmental events, the person's response to them, and biological substrates all likely play a part in causing abnormal functioning The role of the peripheral nervous system • Two divisions of the peripheral nervous system: ○ Somatic nervous system ○ Autonomic nervous system (ANS)  Two parts: □ Sympathetic nervous system  Involved in fear and anxiety reactions  Readies the body for fight of flight □ Parasympathetic nervous system  An overactive ANS may increase readiness to acquire phobias or other anxiety disorders The role of the endocrine system • Aspects of the CNS interact with the endocrine system in a feedback loop that maintains appropriate levels of hormones circulating in the bloodstream • The endocrine system has many and complex effects on behavior ○ Cretinism, a disorder involving a dwarflike appearance and mental retardation, is a result of a defective thyroid gland ○ Hypoglycemia, which results from the pancreas failing to produce balanced levels of insulin or glycogen, produces experiencesthat mimic anxiety ○ Thyroid dysregulation has been associated with a variety of psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety and depression Genetics and behavior • Biological determinism-- the idea that what a person is is determinedby largely by inherited characteristics • Claims about the inheritance of defective features can easily be used by those who would treat these individuals in a prejudicial manner • Most, if not all, behaviors are the product of an interaction between biological influence and societal, cultural, and personal influence • Behavioral genetics offer us an insight into the biological bases of abnormal functioning • Genotype-environmentinteraction-- genes may influence behaviors that contribute to environmental stressors, which, in turn, increase the risk of psychopathology • Neither genes nor environmental events can explain the onset of a disorder; a complex interaction of the two factors is required • Behavioral research into the genetic bases of psychiatric disorders typically takes one of three forms: ○ 1) Family (or pedigree) studies ○ 2) Twin studies ○ 3) Adoption studies • Concordance-- When the problem that characterizes the person being studied also occurs in the comparison person ○ The degree of concordance is thought to reveal the influence of genetics, though this assumption in not altogether accurate,since concordance can't reveal environmental influences • Genetic linkage studies-- studies in which researchers examine families that have a high incidence of a particular psychiatric problem to look for thepresence of genetic markers that can be linked to the occurrence of the disorder • Researchers in molecular biology have been able to compare specific DNA segments and identify the genes that determine individual characteristics ○ In many of these cases, multiple gene defects appear to interact with environmental factors to produce the disorder Psychosocial theories Introduction • Psychodynamic theory-- behavior is motivated by unconscious processes acquired during the formative years of life • Behavioral, cognitive-behavior, and social learning theories-- behaviors are learned responses to environmental stimuli • Cognitive theory-- it is the way people think about or perceive their world that causes them to develop disorders • Humanist and existential theories-- personal experience provides the basis for the development of self-directed behavior • Socio-cultural theory-- the surrounding society or culture exerts powerful influences on people and that such influences may cause a disorder to occur • All of these theories stress experience Psychodynamic theories • Sigmund Freud (1956-1939), a Viennese neurologist, was the founder of the psychodynamic school of thought • Psychodynamictheories clam that behavior is controlled by unconscious forces of which the person is unaware ○ In this sense, psychodynamic theories, like biological theories, see the person as having little control over his or her actions • Believed that traumatic experiences early in life becomerepressed because they are too disturbing to contemplate Textbook Notes Page 2 • Believed that traumatic experiences early in life becomerepressed because they are too disturbing to contemplate ○ These repressed or unconscious memories influence current functioning • Discharging the emotional responses attached to these unconscious memories, by identifying the original traumatic experiencesduring hypnosis, was called catharsis and this was seen as an effective treatment • Levels of consciousness ○ The conscious, which contains information of which we are currently aware ○ The preconscious, which holds information not presently within our awareness but that can readily be brought into awareness ○ The unconscious, which, according to Freud, contains the majority of our memories and drives that, unfortunately, can only be raised to awareness with great difficulty and typically only in response to particular techniques (that is, by psychoanalytic procedures) • Unacceptable drives and traumatic memories are kept in our unconscious bydefense mechanisms • Structure of personality ○ The three structures of personality are in constant conflict  The id is the structure present at birth and it contains, or represents, the biological or instinctual drives □ These drives demand instant gratification without concern for the consequenceseither to the self or to others □ Acts according to what Freud called the pleasure principle  The ego begins to develop in the first year of life to curb the desires of the id so that the individual does not suffer any unpleasant consequences □ As the individual learns what expressions of desires are practical and possible, the ego becomes governed by thereality principle  The superego is the internalization of the moral standards of society inculcated by the child's parents and develops as the child gets older □ The operating guide of the superego is the moral principle, and it serves as the person's conscience by monitoring the ego ○ The ego attempts to satisfy the id while not offending the principles of the superego • Psychosocial stages of development ○ Freud thought that sexual drives were the most important determinants of behavior ○ Oedipal complex-- boys are presumed to develop sexual desires for their mother and to see their father as a competitor for their mother's love ○ Castration anxiety-- the idea that boys fear that his father will mutilate the boy's genitals to prevent any union with the mother ○ Electra complex-- girls are thought to desire their father-- not to win their father's love, but rather, by seducing him, to gain what they truly desire: a penis • Defense mechanisms ○ The ego uses defense mechanisms to allow the expression of libidinal desires in a distorted or symbolic form ○ The patient's acceptance of the analyst's account of the origin of the problem was calledinsight  It was expected that this would result in the alleviation of the problem • Freud's influence ○ Freudian theory is largely speculative and has little empirical support because it is largely unfalsifiable ○ Some aspects of Freud's thinking have been valuable to psychology:  He legitimized discussion and research on sexual matters  Encouraged a concern with processes beyond our awareness  Recognized that the motives for human behavior were not always the obvious ones ○ No single psychological theorist has been more influential than Freud Behavioraltheories • Conditioning accounts ○ Behaviorism was first introduced by John B. Watson ○ Early behaviorists assumed that all (or almost all) human behav
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