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Discuss the biological approach to psychopathology

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Discuss the biological approach to psychopathology The biological model assumes that all mental disorders are caused by physical factors - like illnesses. Such illnesses may be caused by one of four possible factors: genes, biochemistry, neuroanatomy and viral infection - biochemistry referring to hormones and neuroanatomy referring to brain structure. According to this approach, mental illness can be the result of genetic inheritance, and so are passed on from parent to child. Many of the genes responsible for abnormal behaviours are the product of evolutionary adaptations in our ancestors, despite the fact that these traits are no longer useful. For example, psychologists believe 'stress genes' evolved in order to help our ancestors in times of danger and provide them with the 'fight or flight' response which is no longer as useful in our technological world. ...read more.


Also, this approach means that viral infections can also be the cause of mental illness. Research suggests that some disorders, such as schizophrenia, may be related to the exposure of certain viruses in the womb. For example, Torrey (2001) found that the mothers of many people with schizophrenia had contracted a strain of influenza during pregnancy. The virus may enter the unborn child's brain, where it remains dormant until puberty, where other hormones can activate it, producing symptoms of schizophrenia. Whilst the biological model has been supported by evidence, there are issues of cause and effect. For example, many studies have shown clear structural differences in the brain between normal and schizophrenic patients. ...read more.


For example, drugs that alter the levels of serotonin neurotransmitter are often effective in treating depression indicating that levels of chemicals in the brain could be the cause of some mental disorders. However, it could be counter argued that when patients stop taking these drugs, they often relapse and start suffering again. This may indicate that there is more to the cause of mental disorders than neurotransmitter levels. A further weakness of the model is that evidence for genetic inheritance is always inconclusive. Concordance rates found in twin studies are never 100% despite the fact that identical twins share 100% of their genes. Instead, it is likely that individuals inherit susceptibility for a mental disorder but only go on to develop it if the individual is also exposed to stressful life conditions. This is called the diathesis-stress model. ...read more.

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Response to the question

This candidate demonstrates an excellent knowledge of the biological approach and, unlike so many other essays, does not fall foul to forgetting to tie the theory to the question. This candidate has very succinctly describe the beliefs of the biological ...

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Response to the question

This candidate demonstrates an excellent knowledge of the biological approach and, unlike so many other essays, does not fall foul to forgetting to tie the theory to the question. This candidate has very succinctly describe the beliefs of the biological approach in conjunction with the treatment of certain psychopathic disorders. There is a good use of the appropriate terminology required and the argument is balanced. The introductory paragraph is very well-written and nicely helms the direction of the essay by introducing the psychopathic disorder classifications and how biology affects behaviour, allowing the rest of the essay to flow naturally into a very well-augmented essay.

Level of analysis

The Level of Analysis here is very good. The candidate realises a number of difficulties as well as success which biological ideas about psychopathy, citing empirical evidence that helps support and refute certain theories and treatment, all the while applying specialist terminology like "certain genes may lead to abnormal biochemistry and/or abnormal neuroanatomy" and does well to recognise a number of contributory factors to biological psychopathy, such as evolutionary factors.

Where the candidate could improve is to, perhaps, mention how biological intervention can induce psychopathy, e.g. neuro-surgery that fails to cure but instead makes a problem worse, or perhaps an accident of the ilk of Phineas Gage, where a man who was always considered very normal became a psychopath after a large pole was blown through his left cheek, through his right frontal lobe and out of the top of his head after accidentally placing the pole on a landmine. How did this intervention change Gage's biology and ultimately induce psychopathy? Not mentioning this does not greatly hinder the answer, but it would aid the candidate by giving them a different biological cause of psychopathy to discuss, helping to vary their answer a bit more.

Quality of writing

The Quality of Written Communication (QWC) here is very good. All difficult terminology is spelt and applied correctly, all grammar is accurate and there are no punctuation issues to be found. This is an good example of a candidate who has clearly taken time to ensure the clarity of their written expression by re-reading and spell-checking everything they wrote, in order to make the transmission of the information - quite complex information, for anyone to have to read - far more accessible due to the clear and accurate QWC.

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Reviewed by sydneyhopcroft 02/07/2012

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