Outline and Evaluate the Biological Approach to Abnormality

Outline and evaluate the biological approach to abnormality The biological model compares abnormal behaviour with a disease - Outline and Evaluate the Biological Approach to Abnormality introduction. It assumes that all mental illnesses have a physiological cause related to the physical structure and brain. Doctors diagnose mental illness using well-established criteria. Psychiatrists also use diagnostic manuals for mental illness and compare symptoms with set classifications of illnesses. According to the biological model, mental illness is caused by one or more of the following factors; genetic inheritance, bio-chemistry and infection.

The reason why genetic inheritance could be a possible cause for mental illness is due to the assumption that people have a genetic disposition to certain psychological disorders. For example, Kendler et al found relatives of schizophrenics were 18 times more likely to develop the illness than a matched control group. Bio-chemistry is also a factor that is considered as it is thought that chemical imbalances in the brain may be involved in certain mental illnesses. Neurotransmitters play an important part in behaviour. For example, an excess of dopamine has been detected in the brains of schizophrenics.

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This finding, however, has been assumed due to correlation which does not prove cause and effect. Infection is also thought to be a factor which could potentially cause mental illness as research suggests that some mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, may be related to exposure to certain viruses in the womb. For example, Torrey found that the mothers of many people with schizophrenia had contracted a particular strain of influenza during pregnancy. It is supposed that the virus may have entered the unborn child’s brain and remained dormant there until puberty, when other hormones may have activated it.

The biological model is supported by research and has been tested. This shows us that it is reliable and scientific. Also, the increased use of brain scans and post mortems adds to the growing body of physiological evidence supporting the biological approach. An example of this is Charles Whitman in 1966; he killed his mother and 14 other students before being shot himself. He’d written a letter beforehand, requesting that his body be autopsied after his death in order to see if there was a physical cause for his mental anguish.

They found a small tumour in his brain which could explain his unstable mental state though it is not certain. The biological approach also attaches no blame to the mentally ill individual. People with mental illness are simply unlucky to develop it, in the same way that someone might catch the measles. This is a good thing because mental illness, in practice, often invokes fear and stigma. Though there are many positive points to be made about the biological model, there are also negative points to be made as well.

The biological model does not account for psychological disorders which could have been caused by environmental factors, therefore it is considered too reductionist. The fact that the biological model suggests that people aren’t held responsible for their actions or their treatment causes therapy to become counterproductive as therapy works best when patients take more responsibility for their treatments and behaviour. There is also a chance for people to be misdiagnosed with the biological model. An example of this is a study performed by Rosenhan in 1973.

He sent sane participants to a mental hospital where people claimed to be hearing voices. They were admitted and behaved normally but their behaviour was considered to be indicative of mental illness by staff. Rosenhan did a follow-up study where he informed hospitals that he would replicate his initial study in order to see if they could detect the sane from the insane. 41 patients were turned away by these hospitals even though Rosenhan did not send any participants in the follow-up. Rosenhan then concluded that psychiatric diagnosis was unreliable.

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