Outline and evaluate the behavioural approach to abnormality Essay

Outline and evaluate the behavioural approach to abnormality

This approach focuses on the behaviour of the person to explain psychological abnormalities. It believes that the behaviour is learnt, and therefore can be unlearnt. It focuses on 3 different things: classical conditioning, operant conditioning and social learning theory. Classical conditioning was developed by Pavlov through his work on animals. He explained the development of abnormal behaviours through stimulus-response associations. This is where it is not the object or the situation that is the cause of fear, but the conditioned response to it.

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Phobias are thought to develop in this way as a person must have had a strong reaction to a stimulus, which will make them then avoid a situation where they could be at risk of coming face to face with that same stimulus again. Operant conditioning was developed by Skinner and it was found that behaviour is shaped by the consequences of our actions. It was said that if behaviours are reinforced then it would occur again, whereas if behaviour is punished then it would not.

Anxiety and depressive orders can be explained in this way. An example is eating disorders. This is due to the praise a person may receive for losing weight (positive reinforcement), which then motivates them to lose more weight. Social learning theory was developed by Bandura and is linked to vicarious learning. Bandura found that we observe other people and imitate their behaviours. A prime example of this was Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment. Children observed when a person was fighting a Bobo doll, and then as each child spent time with the doll they then copied this behaviour by hitting and kicking out at the Bobo doll too, just like they had previously seen.

The behavioural model has an advantage of the fact that it does not label people with the stigma of being ‘ill’. Labels are damaging via the self-fulfilling prophecie and they tend to stick with us as they can be difficult to remove, therefore this model is a positive one. Another advantage is that it focuses on the present. This is good because many people do not know the past causes of their abnormal behaviour, and it can therefore be beneficial to just focus on their present symptoms than worrying about the past too. Also, this model allows clear predictions that
can be tested and measured against. The research shows how certain abnormal behaviours can be learnt which gives the behavioural model support.

However, there are points against the behavioural model.
Firstly, it is said that much of this theory’s evidence supporting it is drawn from studies of simple animals and therefore it may not link to the understanding of complexities of human mental disorders, making it lack in validity. Also, behaviourists consider mental disorders consisting of purely observable symptoms, which means that the model may be ignoring possible more important underlying symptoms. A final disadvantage of this behavioural model is that it is accused of over-emphasising the environmental factors and therefore finds it difficult to explain mental disorders that have clear biological elements, eg – schizophrenia. Overall, I think the behavioural model explains psychological abnormalities well. However there are other things to consider about abnormalities that this model does not consider and therefore it is not a perfectly accurate model.

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