Answering the approaches questionUsing the biological approach to explain a behaviour”Lottery addict childrenBritain is producing a generation of child gamblers hooked on the Lottery andfruit machines. Disturbing new research by two eminent academics showsthat hundreds of thousands of children-some as young as 11- are nowaddicted despite the supposed legal restrictions. The findings will fuelwarnings from lottery critics that the country is storing up social problems andis likely to trigger pressure for a uniform age limit of 18 on all gambling.”(Reproduced from AQA A specimen material.)In the A level examination you will be required to explain a target behaviourusing any approach. The aim of this activity is to offer you, the candidate, theopportunity to express your true understanding of the approach by your abilityto use it in a novel situation.
How would you explain lottery addiction in terms of the biologicalapproach? The currency of the biological explanation is brain activity orbrain anatomy, nervous impulses and neurotransmitters, hormones, andvarious organs in the body. A possible explanation could be as follows:(a)Why are young people hooked on the lottery and fruit machines? Apsychologist might use the biological approach to explain thisbehaviour. Such a psychologist would explain the behaviour interms of brain activity and the action of the central and autonomicnervous systems. The psychologist might also mention hormones.
An answer like this would attract relatively few marks as it does littlemore than sketch out the possible elements of a biological explanationand has not demonstrated a true understanding of the approach. Inorder to do this you really need to try to put together an explanation ofthe target behaviour.
(a)An explanation of lottery addiction using the biological approachwould focus on how biological systems can be used to explain andunderstand this behaviour. When an individual stands in front of afruit machine the flashing lights are physiologically arousing,creating a sense of excitement and probably pleasure. Physiologicalarousal causes the body to produce certain hormones that preparethe person for fight or flight. We can also understand theindividual’s behaviour in terms of nervous impulses. The eyes watchthe pictures on the fruit machine go round and send impulses tothe brain where they are interpreted and further messages sent tothe hands to press a button at an appropriate moment to stop themachine.
In the A level examination you will be given an opportunity to evaluateone of your explanations so you can take the opportunity, as below, toindicate in what way the explanation offered in the first part of thequestion is lacking. This highlights the fact that your explanations maynot be satisfactory! They simply need to demonstrate your understandingof the named approach.
(b)The problem with the biological approach is that for many aspectsof behaviour it ignores some of the key elements of behaviour. Inthis case it is largely a description of what is happening at the levelof nerves and hormones and doesn’t actually explain anything, forexample why the individual is playing the fruit machine or why theindividual wants to repeat the behaviour. The behaviouristapproach would offer a better account because we can use theidea of reinforcement and partial rewards.
A suitable methodology for the biological approachIn the examination you will be further asked to analyse how oneapproach might investigate this phenomenon, and evaluate the use ofthis method of investigating this phenomenon. As already mentioned thebiological approach lends itself to laboratory experiments. Therefore afurther response would be to analyse the use of this method. The processof analysis involves identifying the constituent parts of a problem anddiscussing them. A good student answer might be:(c)The biological approach is particularly suitable for experimentsbecause it reduces behaviours to simple components. If we were toconduct an experiment into gambling behaviour we might assessthe stress experienced by individuals when playing the fruit machineby using a galvanic skin response. This registers the amount of sweatbeing produced during an activity and thus is indicative ofautonomic arousal because when one is in a state of physiologicalarousal sweating increases. There are other signs of ANS arousal aswell, such as pupil dilation. We might also consider reaction timeand see whether this was enhanced during high ANS arousal.
(d)The investigation described above could be conducted in alaboratory where conditions are more highly controlled. Or it mightbe conducted in the field where behaviour might be morenaturalistic but, on the negative side, participants’ behaviour mightbe affected by other things in the environment rather than just thefruit machine activity (for example a noisy atmosphere in the pub).
Field experiments increase ecological validity at a loss of internal.
Bibliography – AQA