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Understanding Abnormal Behavior , Eighth Edition
David Sue, Western Washington University
Derald Wing Sue, Teacher's College
Stanley Sue, University of California, Davis
Chapter Outline
Chapter 2: Models of Abnormal Behavior

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    In psychoanalysis, 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 people.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 cultural context.
    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.
  11. 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 level.


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