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Chapter 3. Models of Abnormality. Models of Abnormality. In science, the perspectives used to explain phenomena are known as models or paradigms Each provides a set of assumptions and concepts that help us explain and interpret observations A school of thought

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Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Models of Abnormality

Models of abnormality

Models of Abnormality

  • In science, the perspectives used to explain phenomena are known as models or paradigms

    • Each provides a set of assumptions and concepts that help us explain and interpret observations

      • A school of thought

    • Helpful because they spell out basic assumptions and set guidelines for investigation

    • They influence what investigators observe, the questions they ask, the information they seek, and their interpretation of that information

Models of abnormality1

Models of Abnormality

  • Historically, clinical scientists of a given time and place agreed on a single model of abnormality – a model greatly influenced by cultural beliefs

  • Currently, there are several competing models of abnormality

    • Why? Each model focuses on one aspect of human functioning and no single model can explain all aspects of abnormality

The biological model

The Biological Model

  • Takes a medical perspective

  • Main focus is that psychological abnormality is an illness brought about by malfunctioning parts of the organism

    • Typically focused on the brain

Chapter 3

Four factors that are associated with this approach

1.Influence of germs

2.Genetic links

3.Biochemical changes

4.Neuroanatomical changes

How do biological theorists explain abnormal behavior

How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?

  • Brain anatomy

    • The brain is composed of ~100 billion nerve cells (called neurons) and thousands of billions of support cells (called glia)

    • Within the brain, large groups of neurons form distinct areas called brain regions

How do biological theorists explain abnormal behavior1

How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?

  • Brain anatomy and abnormal behavior

    • Clinical researchers have found connections between certain psychological disorders and problems in specific brain areas

      • Example: Huntington’s disease & basal ganglia (forebrain)

How do biological theorists explain abnormal behavior2

How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?

  • Brain chemistry

    • Information spreads throughout the brain in the form of electrical impulses that travel from one neuron to one (or more) other neurons

    • An impulse is first received at a neuron’s dendrites, travels down the axon, and is transmitted to other neurons through the nerve endings

Brain anatomy and abnormal behavior

Brain Anatomy and Abnormal Behavior

The brain is composed of ~ 100 billion nerve cells or neurons and thousands of billions of support cells or glia

  • Large groups of neurons form brain regions:

    • Distinct areas that control important functions

  • Clinical researchers have discovered connections between certain psychological disorders and specific areas

    • Huntington’s Disease – loss of cells in the basal ganglia (forebrain)

Chapter 3


How do biological theorists explain abnormal behavior3

How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?

  • Brain chemistry

    • Neurons don’t touch; they are separated by a space (the synapse), across which a message moves

    • When an electrical impulse reaches a nerve ending, the nerve ending is stimulated to release a chemical called a neurotransmitter (NT)

      • Some NTs tell receiving neurons to “fire;” other NTs tell receiving neurons to stop firing

How do biological theorists explain abnormal behavior4

How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?

  • Brain chemistry

    • Researchers have identified dozens of NTs

      • Examples: serotonin, dopamine, and GABA

    • Studies indicate that abnormal activity in certain NTs can lead to specific mental disorders

      • Examples: depression (serotonin and norepinephrine) and anxiety (GABA)

Chapter 3

Recent studies have focused on the role of NT in their impact on behavior

Acetylcholine - first known NT. it is involved with transmission to muscles.

Dopamine - regulates motor behavior, excess dopamine is thought to be a cause of schizophrenia. It is developed in the mid-brain above the pons.

Chapter 3

Enkephalines - opiate receptors, affected by opium derivatives, may be able to produce natural highs. May be the source of runners high.

GABA - gamma-amino-butyric-acid, an inhibitory NT.

Histamines - allergic reactions

Norephinephrine - acts on autonomic nervous system to produce energizing responses.

Serotonin - transmissions within the brain, may play a role in depression.

How do biological theorists explain abnormal behavior5

How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?

  • Brain chemistry

    • Additionally, researchers have learned that mental disorders are sometimes related to abnormal chemical activity in the endocrine system

    • Hormone release, triggered by a variety of factors, propels body organs into action. Abnormal secretions have been linked to psychological disorders

      • Example: cortisol release is related to anxiety and mood disorders

How do biological theorists explain abnormal behavior6

How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?

  • Sources of biological abnormalities – Genetics

    • Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, each with numerous genes that control the characteristics and traits a person inherits

    • Studies suggest that inheritance plays a part in mood disorders, schizophrenia, mental retardation, Alzheimer’s disease, and other mental disorders

      • Aren’t able (yet) to identify specific genes

      • Don’t know the extent to which genetic factors contribute to disorders

        • Seems no SINGLE gene is responsible for a particular behavior or disorder

Causes of biological abnormalities

Causes of Biological Abnormalities

Genetic Inheritance

  • Each cell in the human body contains 23 pairs of chromosomes

    • Inherited from a person’s parents

    • Cells contain between 30,000 - 40,000 genes that control the characteristics and traits being inherited

  • Studies suggest inheritance plays a role in:

    • Mood disorders

    • Schizophrenia

    • Mental retardation

    • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Genes combine to help produce our functional and dysfunctional actions

    • In most cases no single geneis responsible for particular behavior or mental disorder

  • Human Gnome Project

    • Research to identify which genes help cause various human disorders

Chapter 3

Behavior genetics - examines influence of genes on behavior

• Genotype - a unique genetic code, a persons genetic makeup

• Phenotype - behavioral expression of the interaction of genotype and the environment. Often it is difficult to determine which is predominant --> nature vs. nurture controversy.

Chapter 3

Twin studies are often used to study genetic/environment interactions

Two types of twins

• Monozygotic (MZ) - identical twins, develop from 1 fertilized egg. They have the exact same genotype. Do they have the same phenotype?

• Dizygotic (DZ) - fraternal twins, develop from 2 eggs fertilized by 2 different sperm. They have less than 50% of their genes in common.

Chapter 3

Studies of Concordance - when twins develop the same disorder

Research studies use groups of MZ twins that are compared to DZ twins. If the concordance rate is higher in MZ (3:1) than in DZ twins, then it is likely their is a genetic connection for that disease.

If their is little concordance in the MZ twins it may be due to interaction with the environment or some other cause.

Chapter 3

Recent studies of MZ twins have found

high concordance rates in

anxiety reactions




How do biological theorists explain abnormal behavior7

How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?

  • Sources of biological abnormalities – Evolution

    • Genes that contribute to mental disorders are viewed as unfortunate occurrences:

      • May be mutations

      • May be inherited after a mutation in the family line

    • Evolutionary theorists argue that we can best understand abnormality by examining the millions of years of human evolution

      • Looking at a combination of adaptive behaviors of the past, genes, and the interaction between genes and current environmental events

    • This model has been criticized and remains controversial

How do biological theorists explain abnormal behavior8

How Do Biological Theorists Explain Abnormal Behavior?

  • Sources of biological abnormalities – Viral infections

    • Infection provides another possible source of abnormal brain structure or biochemical dysfunction

      • Example: schizophrenia and prenatal viral exposure

    • Interest in viral explanations of psychological disorders has been growing in the past decade

      • Example: anxiety and mood disorders

Biological treatments

Biological Treatments

  • Biological practitioners attempt to pinpoint the physical source of dysfunction to determine the course of treatment

  • Three types of biological treatment:

    • Drug therapy

    • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

    • Psychosurgery

Biological treatments1

Biological Treatments

  • Drug therapy:

    • 1950s = advent of psychotropic medications

      • Changed outlook for a number of mental disorders

    • Four groups of drugs:

      • Antianxiety drugs (anxiolytics; tranquilizers)

      • Antidepressant drugs

      • Antibipolar drugs (mood stabilizers)

      • Antipsychotic drugs

Biological treatments2

Biological Treatments

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT):

    • Currently experiencing a revival

    • Used for depression when drugs and other therapies have failed

      • In 60% of cases, ECT can lift symptoms within a few weeks

Biological treatments3

Biological Treatments

  • Psychosurgery (or neurosurgery):

    • Historical roots in trephination

    • 1930s = first lobotomy

    • Much more precise than in the past

    • Considered experimental and used only in extreme cases

Chapter 3

Measuring the brain

Other forms of brain study are needed to study brain function and structure.

• early methods - dissections

• advanced

CT and MRI scans study brain structure.

Pet scans study brain function

Chapter 3

CT (CAT) scan - computerized axial tomography, passes gamma-rays through cross-sections of the intact brain and measures radioactivity on the other side.

By locating differences in tissue density, tumors can be located.

Chapter 3

MRI - Nuclear magnetic resonance imaging. More precise and detailed than CT.

Enclosed in a magnetic field, radio waves are used to locate abnormalities in tissue. Very accurate, excellent details. Can be used from different viewpoints to create different perspectives for different dimensional views.

Chapter 3

PET - Positron Emission Tomography - (a measure of brain activity) observes brain activity by monitoring an injected radioactive tracer substance moving though blood vessels of the brain.

Studies have shown that schizophrenics have greater blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain than the rt. hemi. The more severe the schiz. the greater the difference in left/right blood flow. One conclusion has been drawn, Schiz. is the result of left hemi. damage, greater blood flow is the bodies attempt to compensate.

Assessing the biological model


Can limit rather than enhance our understanding

Too simplistic

Evidence is incomplete or inconclusive

Treatments produce significant undesirable (negative) effects


Enjoys considerable respect in the field


Creates new therapies

Suggests new avenues of research

Assessing the Biological Model

The psychodynamic model

The Psychodynamic Model

  • Oldest and most famous psychological model

  • Based on belief that a person’s behavior (whether normal or abnormal) is determined largely by underlying dynamic psychological forces of which she or he is not aware

    • Abnormal symptoms are the result of conflict among these forces

  • Father of psychodynamic theory and psychoanalytic therapy:

    • Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

Chapter 3

First hypothesis - became known as depth psychology

Two basic principles of this theory

I. Conflict causes anxiety

II. The mind works on 2 levels

1. Conscious mind, awareness, here and now

2. Unconscious mind, has 2 levels identifiable by the retrievability of memories

What evidence do we have that the unconscious exists?

Chapter 3

Second Hypothesis

Focus is on mental structures and instincts

Behavior is a product of 3 mental structures




How did freud explain normal and abnormal functioning

How Did Freud Explain Normal and Abnormal Functioning?

  • Abnormal behavior is caused by three UNCONSCIOUS forces:

    • Id – guided by the Pleasure Principle

    • Ego – the reality principle

    • Superego – our values and ideals

The id

The Id

  • Psychological force that produces instinctual needs, drives, and impulses

    • Pleasure principle

      • Always seeks gratification

    • All id instincts tend to be sexual in nature

      • A person’s libido fuels the id

      • Instinctual needs, drives, & impulses

      • Sexual; fueled by libido (sexual energy)

2 ego function

2. Ego Function

  • Ego – guided by the Reality Principle

    • Seeks gratification but guides us to know when we can & can’t express our wishes

    • Ego defense mechanisms protect us from anxiety

The ego

The Ego

  • Psychological force that employs reason

  • Once we realize our environment will not meet every instinctual need, part of the id separates into the ego

    • Unconsciously seeks gratification

    • Reality principle

      • Knowledge that it can be unacceptable to express our id impulses outright

      • The ego guides us to know when we can and cannot express impulses

    • Ego Defense Mechanisms

      • Basic strategies to control unacceptable id impulses

      • Repression – the most basic

        • prevents these impulses from reaching consciousness

The superego

The Superego

  • The psychological force that represents a person’s values and ideas

    • Grows out of the ego

    • Development of a conscious

      • Based on feelings of doing good vs. guilt

      • As we learn that many of our id impulses are unacceptable, we unconsciously adopt certain values

How did freud explain normal and abnormal functioning1

How Did Freud Explain Normal and Abnormal Functioning?

  • These three parts of the personality are often in conflict

    • A healthy personality is one in which compromise exists among the three forces

    • If the id, ego, and superego are in excessive conflict, the person’s behavior may show signs of dysfunction

How did freud explain normal and abnormal functioning2

How Did Freud Explain Normal and Abnormal Functioning?

  • Developmental stages

    • Freud proposed that at each stage of development, new events and pressures require adjustment in the id, ego, and superego

      • If successful → personal growth

      • If unsuccessful → fixation at an early developmental stage, leading to psychological abnormality

        • Because parents are the key figures in early life, they are often seen as the cause of improper development

How did freud explain normal and abnormal functioning3

How Did Freud Explain Normal and Abnormal Functioning?

  • Developmental stages

    • Oral (0 to 18 months of age)

    • Anal (18 months to 3 years of age)

    • Phallic (3 to 5 years of age)

    • Latency (5 to 12 years of age)

    • Genital (12 years of age to adulthood)

How do other psychodynamic explanations differ from freud s

How Do Other Psychodynamic Explanations Differ from Freud’s?

  • Although current models deviate from Freud’s in important ways, each retains the belief that human functioning is shaped by dynamic (interacting) forces:

    • Ego theorists

      • Emphasize the role of the ego; consider it independent

    • Self theorists

      • Emphasize the unified personality over any one component

    • Object-relations theorists

      • Emphasize the human need for interpersonal relationships

Psychodynamic therapies

Psychodynamic Therapies

  • Range from Freudian psychoanalysis to more modern therapies

  • All seek to uncover past trauma and inner conflicts

    • Understanding early life experience critically important

  • Therapist acts as “subtle guide”

Psychodynamic therapies1

Psychodynamic Therapies

  • Utilize various techniques:

    • Free association

    • Therapist interpretation

      • Resistance

      • Transference

      • Dream interpretation

    • Catharsis

    • Working through

Psychodynamic therapies2

Psychodynamic Therapies

  • Contemporary trends:

    • Short-term psychodynamic therapies

    • Relational psychoanalytic therapy

Assessing the psychodynamic model


First to recognize importance of psychological theories & treatment

Saw internal conflict as important source of psychological health and abnormality

First to apply theory and techniques systematically to treatment – monumental impact on the field


Unsupported ideas; difficult to research


Inaccessible to human subject (unconscious)

Assessing the Psychodynamic Model

The behavioral model

The Behavioral Model

  • Like the psychodynamic perspective, behaviorism is deterministic, and is based on the idea that our actions are determined largely by our life experiences

  • Emphasizes observable behavior and environmental factors

  • Focuses on how behavior is acquired (learned) and maintained over time

The behavioral model1

The Behavioral Model

  • Historical beginnings in laboratories where conditioning studies were conducted

    • Several forms of conditioning:

      • Operant conditioning

      • Modeling

      • Classical conditioning

    • May produce normal or abnormal behavior

How do behaviorists explain abnormal functioning

How Do Behaviorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?

  • Operant conditioning

    • Organism “operates” on environment and produces an effect

    • Humans and animals learn to behave in certain ways as a result of receiving rewards whenever they do so

Chapter 3

Operant conditioning - operant behavior is a voluntary, controllable behavior.

Thorndike’s (1874-1949) Law of Effect, the beginning of Operant Conditioning

Animals repeat certain behaviors when those behaviors are associated with positive consequences. Also, if the consequences were unpleasant the behaviors would be discouraged or reduced.

Chapter 3

Principles of Operant conditioning

• Reinforcement - anything that increases the frequency or magnitude of the behavior is a reinforcer.

both positive and negative reinforcers increase the frequency of the desired behavior

- negative reinforcer, removes an aversive event.

Chapter 3

• Punishment - either the removal of positive reinforcer, or the presentation of an aversive condition.

• Extinction - elimination of a behavior through non-reinforcement.

• Shaping - reinforcing successive behaviors towards a goal

How do behaviorists explain abnormal functioning1

How Do Behaviorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?

  • Modeling

    • Individuals learn behavioral responses by observing and repeating behavior

      • No direct reinforcement

How do behaviorists explain abnormal functioning2

How Do Behaviorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?

  • Classical conditioning

    • Learning by temporal association

      • When two events repeatedly occur close together in time, they become fused in a person’s mind; before long, the person responds in the same way to both events

    • Father of classical conditioning: Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936)

      • Classic study using dogs & meat powder

Classical conditioning

Classical Conditioning















How do behaviorists explain abnormal functioning3

How Do Behaviorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?

  • Classical conditioning

    • If, after conditioning, the CS is repeatedly presented alone, it will eventually stop eliciting the CR

      • This process is called extinction

    • Explains many familiar behaviors (both normal and abnormal)

Behavioral therapies

Behavioral Therapies

  • Aim is to identify the behaviors that are causing problems and replace them with more appropriate ones

    • May use classical conditioning, operant conditioning, or modeling

  • Therapist is “teacher” rather than healer

    • Early life experiences important only in providing clues to current learning

Chapter 3

Fear and Anxiety

Some symptoms can be treated by breaking the CS-CR bond.

Counter-conditioning - recognized early conditioning that has led to the symptoms. Negative stimulus is paired with a pleasant or neutral stimulus until the fear or anxiety is gone.

EG. Systematic desensitization

Flooding - exposure to the feared stimulus

Behavioral therapies1

Behavioral Therapies

  • Classical conditioning treatments may be used to change abnormal reactions to particular stimuli

    • Example: systematic desensitization for phobia

      • Step-by-step procedure

        • Learn relaxation skills

        • Develop a fear hierarchy

        • Confront feared situations (covertly or in vivo)

Assessing the behavioral model


Powerful force in the field

Rooted in empiricism

Phenomena can be observed and measured

Significant research support for behavioral therapies


Too simplistic


Downplays role of cognition

New focus on self-efficacy, social cognition, and cognitive-behavioral theories

Assessing the Behavioral Model

Chapter 3

Explanations for symptoms using the behavioral model.

- Following the funeral of his grandfather, a 7 yr. old child becomes extremely fearful of riding in cars, especially black cars.

- A middle-aged women begins to feel nauseous and frequently vomits in the parking lot of the hospital when she arrive for her cancer chemotherapy.

- Heroin user overdoses and dies when they are injected with their typical fix, but without having prepared the drug themselves.

The cognitive model

The Cognitive Model

  • Seeks to account for behavior by studying the ways in which the person attends to, interprets, and uses available information

  • Argues that clinicians must ask questions about assumptions, attitudes, and thoughts of a client

    • Concerned with internal processes

    • Present-focused

How do cognitive theorists explain abnormal functioning

How Do Cognitive Theorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?

  • Maladaptive thinking is the cause of maladaptive behavior

    • Several kinds of faulty thinking:

      • Faulty assumptions and attitudes

      • Illogical thinking processes

        • Example: overgeneralization

Cognitive therapies

Cognitive Therapies

  • People must be taught a new way of thinking to prevent maladaptive behavior

  • Main model: Beck’s Cognitive Therapy

    • The goal of therapy is to help clients recognize and restructure their thinking

      • Therapists also guide clients to challenge dysfunctional thoughts, try out new interpretations, and apply new ways of thinking in their daily lives

    • Widely used in treating depression

Assessing the cognitive model


Very broad appeal

Clinically useful & effective

Focuses on a uniquely human process

Correlation between symptoms and maladaptive cognition

Therapies effective in treating several disorders

Adapt well to technology



Singular, narrow focus

Overemphasis on the present

Limited effectiveness

Verification of cognition is difficult

Precise role is hard to determine

Assessing the Cognitive Model

The humanistic existential model

The Humanistic-Existential Model

  • Combination model

    • The humanist view

      • Emphasis on people as friendly, cooperative, and constructive; focus on drive to self-actualization

    • The existentialist view

      • Emphasis on self-determination, choice, and individual responsibility; focus on authenticity

Rogers humanistic theory and therapy

Rogers’ Humanistic Theory and Therapy

  • Basic human need for unconditional positive regard

    • If received, leads to unconditional self-regard

    • If not, leads to “conditions of worth”

      • Incapable of self-actualization because of distortion – don’t know what they really need, etc.

  • Rogers’ “client-centered” therapy

    • Therapist providesunconditional positive regard

      • Both accurate & genuine in reflection (reflective listening)

      • Focus on the “experiencing person”

      • Little research support

Gestalt theory and therapy

Gestalt Theory and Therapy

  • Humanistic approach

    • Developed by Fritz Perls

    • Goal is to help clients achieve self-recognition through challenge and frustration

    • Techniques:

      • Skillful frustration

      • Role playing

      • Rules, including “Here and Now” and “I” language

Existential theories and therapy

Existential Theories and Therapy

  • Psychological dysfunction is caused by self-deception: people hide from life’s responsibilities and fail to recognize that it is up to them to give meaning to their lives

  • Therapy is focused on patient acceptance of personal responsibility and recognition of freedom of action

    • Goals more important than technique

    • Great emphasis placed on client-therapist relationship

Assessing the humanistic existential model


Emphasizes the individual

Taps into domains missing from other theories



Emphasizes health


Focuses on abstract issues

Difficult to research

Not much influence

Weakened by disapproval of scientific approach

Changing somewhat

Assessing the Humanistic-Existential Model

The sociocultural model

The Sociocultural Model

  • Argues that abnormal behavior is best understood in light of the social and cultural forces that influence an individual

    • Addresses norms and roles in society

  • Influenced by sociology and anthropology

  • Argues that we must examine a person’s social surroundings to understand their (abnormal) behavior

How do sociocultural theorists explain abnormal functioning

How Do Sociocultural Theorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?

  • Focus on:

    • Societal labels & roles

      • Diagnostic labels (example: Rosenhan study)

      • Sick role

    • Social networks and support

How do sociocultural theorists explain abnormal functioning1

How Do Sociocultural Theorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?

  • Focus on:

    • Family structure and communication

      • Family systems theory = abnormal functioning within family leads to abnormal behavior (insane behavior becomes sane in an insane environment)

        • Examples: enmeshed, disengaged structures

How do sociocultural theorists explain abnormal functioning2

How Do Sociocultural Theorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?

  • Focus on:

    • Culture

      • Set of values, attitudes, beliefs, history, and behaviors shared by a group of people and communicated from one generation to the next

      • “Multicultural” psychology is a growing field of study

How do sociocultural theorists explain abnormal functioning3

How Do Sociocultural Theorists Explain Abnormal Functioning?

  • Focus on:

    • Religion and spirituality

      • For most of the twentieth century, clinical scientists viewed religion as a negative factor in mental health but this alienation now seems to be ending:

        • Researchers have begun to systematically study the influence of religion and spirituality on mental health

        • Many therapists now address spiritual issues when treating religious clients

Sociocultural treatments

Sociocultural Treatments

  • May include traditional individual therapy

  • Broadened therapy to include:

    • Culturally sensitive therapy

    • Group therapy

    • Family therapy

    • Couple therapy

    • Community treatment

      • Includes prevention work

Assessing the sociocultural model


Added greatly to the clinical understanding of abnormality

Increased awareness of labeling

Clinically successful when other treatments have failed


Research is difficult to interpret

Correlation  causation

Model unable to predict abnormality in specific individuals

Assessing the Sociocultural Model

Integration of the models

Integration of the Models

  • Each perspective is valuable to understanding abnormal behavior

  • Different perspectives are more appropriate under differing conditions

  • An integrative approach provides a general framework for thinking about abnormal behavior, and also allows for specification of the factors that are especially pertinent to particular disorders

Integration of the models1

Integration of the Models

  • Many theorists, clinicians, and practitioners adhere to a biopsychosocial model

    • Abnormality results from the interaction of genetic, biological, developmental, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social, and societal influences

  • Also popular:

    • Diathesis-stress approach

      • Diathesis = predisposition (bio, psycho, or social)

    • Reciprocal effects explanation

Integration of the models2

Integration of the Models

  • Integrative therapists are often called “eclectic” – taking the strengths from each model and using them in combination

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