Understanding Abnormal Behavior
, Eighth Edition
Models of Abnormal Behavior
Models in the study
of psychopathology (p. 35) Models are
analogies that scientists use to describe things they cannot directly observe.
Among the models that psychologists use is the medical model, which portrays
psychological disorders as diseases. Other models are also used, and it is
unlikely that the definitive model will ever be developed. The
case of Steven V. is presented, which describes a college student suffering
from depression and violent fantasies.
Biological models (p.
37) The biological model suggests that abnormal behavior is caused by biological
factors, especially involving genetic material and the brain.
The human brain is composed of billions of neurons (nerve cells) that receive and transmit information.
The brain is divided into two hemispheres, each controlling the opposite side
of the body. The brain structures most relevant to abnormal behavior include
the thalamus, hypothalamus, reticular activating system, limbic system, and
cerebrum. Other structures in the midbrain and hindbrain manufacture chemicals
that are correlated with mental disorders.
Biochemical theories suggest that chemical imbalances
underlie mental disorders. Neurons are composed of dendrites,
which receive signals from other neurons, and axons, which send the signals
to other neurons. At the end of the axon is a gap
called the synapse, into which chemicals called
neurotransmitters are released. Imbalances in neurotransmitters are
associated with many mental disorders. Certain medications can reduce symptoms
of abnormal behavior by blocking or facilitating neurotransmitter activity.
Genetics also plays an important part in explaining
the development of disorders. A persons genotype (genetic
makeup) interacts with the environment to produce physical or behavioral characteristics
(the persons phenotype). The
Human Genome Project has mapped the location of all genes in the nucleus
of a human cell and has completed its sequencing to provide a basic blueprint
of the entire genetic material found in each cell of the human body. While
single cells have been found to be responsible for a few diseases, most diseases
are the result of many genes interacting with hormones, electrical signals,
and nutrient supplies internally plus physical and social environments.
The biological model overemphasizes internal
causes, equates organic dysfunction with mental dysfunction, and assumes that
biochemical differences are the cause of disorder when they may be the result. Diathesis-stress theory argues that people can inherit
a vulnerability to developing an illness, but this tendency must be activated
by environmental forces for the disorder to occur.
Psychodynamic models (p.
43) Sigmund Freuds psychodynamic model emphasizes
early childhood experiences. Anxiety results from unconscious conflicts and
threatens us; in dealing with those threats, we develop symptoms. Psychoanalysis
is the therapeutic technique that asserts unconscious conflicts must be aired
and understood by the patient to eliminate abnormal behavior.
Personality structure (p.
45) Personality is a dynamic process resulting from three interacting components:
the id, the ego, and the superego. The id operates on the pleasure principle,
a need for immediate gratification. The ego is influenced by the reality principle.
The superego is composed of the conscience and the ego ideal. Personality
develops through five psychosexual stages (oral, anal, phallic, latency, and
genital). Fixation at any of the stages affects emotional development.
Anxiety is at the
root of psychoanalytic thinking and takes three forms: realistic, moralistic,
and neurotic. Defense mechanisms protect the individual
from anxiety. These include, among others, repression, reaction formation,
projection, rationalization, displacement, undoing, and regression.
therapists induce ego weakness so that unconscious material can be brought
to the surface. These insights help patients understand their inner motives.
Post-Freudian perspectives take Freuds ideas in new directions. They
emphasize freedom of choice and future goals, ego autonomy, social forces,
object relations, and treatment of seriously disturbed people.
Psychoanalysis has been criticized for basing
its evidence on case studies, which are subject to distortion. Psychodynamic
theory is biased against women and cannot be applied to a wide range of disturbed
Behavioral models (p.
49) The behavioral models emphasize learning. The
classical conditioning model involves the pairing of a neutral (conditioned)
stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus that automatically produces
certain responses called the unconditioned response.
After repeated pairing, the conditioned stimulus alone can produce a weakened
version of the response, call the conditioned response.
Classical conditioning in psychopathology. These concepts can be said to explain
the development of phobias and deviant sexual behavior. However, the passive
nature of associative learning makes it a limited explanatory tool.
The operant conditioning
model stresses the consequences of voluntary and controllable behaviors
called operant behaviors. According to Thorndikes law of effect, these behaviors are more likely when they
produce positive consequences and less likely when they produce negative consequences.
Operant conditioning principles help explain such forms of psychopathology
as self-injurious behavior. As in classical conditioning, operant concepts
can be applied to treatment as well.
The observational learning
model suggests that an individual can acquire new behaviors simply
by watching other people perform them through the process of vicarious conditioning
or modeling. Observational learning in psychopathology assumes that exposure
to disturbed models helps produce disturbed behavior.
Behavioral models have made significant contributions
to both the understanding and treatment of disorders. However, they are criticized
for diminishing the importance of inner determinants of behavior.
Cognitive models (p.
53) The cognitive models assume that thoughts modify our emotional states
and behavior. People differ in their mediating processes, which determine
our reactions, behaviors, and self-evaluations. Our schemas (how
we interpret events) influence our experiences.
Cognitive theorists focus on irrational beliefs
(Ellis) or dysfunctional automatic thoughts (Beck). Becks
work on depression helped him identify a hierarchy of cognitive content. Ellis
describes an A-B-C theory of personality in which A is an event, B is a belief,
and C is a consequent behavior or emotion. Beck describes six types of faulty
or distorted thinking: arbitrary inference, selective abstraction, overgeneralization,
magnification and exaggeration, personalization, and polarized thinking.
Cognitive approaches to therapy have clients
monitor their thoughts; recognize the connections between thoughts, emotions,
and behaviors; examine the evidence for their assumptions; and substitute
more reality-oriented interpretations.
Some behaviorists warn that cognitions cannot
be observed and therefore are not the stuff of science.
Humanistically oriented psychologists object
to reducing human beings to the sum of their cognitions. Others object to
confrontative cognitive therapy methods.
Humanistic and existential
approaches (p. 56) The humanistic and existential approaches emphasize the need to appreciate
the world form the individual's vantage point. They also highlight freedom
of choice and the wholeness of the individual.
Psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow
suggested that people are motivated by the actualizing tendency to enhance
the self (self-actualization). Development of abnormal
behavior occurs when society imposes conditions of worth on people so that
their self-concept and actualizing tendency become
incongruent. This incongruence produces behavior disorders. In Rogers
person-centered therapy, people are free to grow toward their potential. The
therapist uses reflection of feelings and acceptance rather than advice to
help the client actively evaluate his or her experience.
The existential perspective is not a systematized
school of thought but a set of attitudes that is less optimistic than humanism.
It views the individual within the human condition and focuses more on responsibility
to others. Both approaches lack scientific grounding, are vague, and apply
therapies that are ineffective with severely disturbed clients.
The family systems
model (p. 59) Unlike the biological, psychodynamic, and behavioral
models, which stress the individual, the family systems
model emphasizes the influence of the family on individual behavior.
- Family treatment approaches see abnormality
as a symptom of unhealthy family dynamics, including
communication problems. Three family therapy approaches are: (1) communications,
as defined by Virginia Satirs conjoint family therapy approach (teaching
message sending/receiving skills to all family members); (2) strategic, which
sees therapy as a power struggle between the client and therapist where the
identified patient is in control, so the therapist must devise strategies
to help the family change the balance; and (3) the structural family approach
that sees a need for restructuring family relationships, which are typically
either too involved or too uninvolved with each other.
Criticisms of the family systems model include
difficulty defining it from different cultural viewpoints and its confusion
of cause and effect over the issue of family abuse.
Models of diversity
and psychopathology (p. 60) As European Americans become a numerical
minority in the United States, there is a growing awareness of cultural issues
in psychopathology. Early models viewed cultural minorities as genetically
inferior or culturally deprived relative to white middle-class culture. Multicultural models of psychopathology argue that culture
is central to all theories of pathology, that European-American concepts must
be balanced by non-Western perspectives, and that human development includes
The DSM-IV-TR includes cultural considerations.
Bias may help explain apparent cultural differences in psychopathology; Europeans
emphasize individuality in ways other cultures do not, but some critics argue
that a disorder is a disorder regardless of cultural context. The multicultural
perspective has been criticized for lacking empirical validation.
An integrative approach
to models of psychopathology (p. 65) It is useful to compare and contrast
the different models of psychopathology. However, few practicing clinicians
use them rigidly and most see value in an eclectic approach: we are all biological,
psychological, and cultural beings.
A tripartite framework for understanding abnormal
psychology includes the individual level, the group level, and the universal