Psychopathology, Theories and Treatment Revision notes (Psychology AS)

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Study of abnormal thoughts, behaviours and feelings.

Definitions for abnormality

Deviation from social normal

  • a person's thinking or behavior is classified as abnormal if it violates what is expected or acceptable behavior in a particular social group
  • Social behavior varies markedly when different cultures are compared
  • it is common in Southern Europe to stand much closer to strangers than in the UK
  • Social norms change over time.  Behavior that was once seen as abnormal may, given time, become acceptable and vice versa. E.g. Homosexuality was seen wrong but now is acceptable

Failure to function adequately

  • a person is considered abnormal if they are unable to cope with the demands of everyday life
  • They may be unable to perform the behaviors necessary for day-to-day living e.g. self-care, hold down a job, interact meaningfully with others, make themselves understood etc.
  • Rosenhan & Seligman suggest the following characteristics that define failure to function adequately:
  • Suffering
  • Maladaptiveness (danger to self)
  •  Vividness & unconventionality (stands out
  • Unpredictably & loss of control
  • Causes observer discomfort
  • Violates moral/social standards
  • abnormal behavior may actually be helpful, function and adaptive for the individual
  • For example, a person who has the obsessive-compulsive disorder of hand-washing may find that the behavior makes him cheerful, happy and better able to cope with his day

Deviation from ideal mental health

  • Rather than defining what is abnormal, we define what normal/ideal is and anything that deviates from this is regarded as abnormal.  This requires us to decide on the characteristics we consider necessary to mental health.
  • Usual characteristics include :
  • Resistant to stress
  • Focused on the future and self-actualisation
  • Show empathy for others
  • impossible for any individual to achieve all of the ideal characteristics all of the time#

Ethnocentric: Most definitions of psychological abnormality are devised by white, middle class men. It has been suggested that this may lead to disproportionate numbers of people from certain groups being diagnosed as "abnormal." 

Biological approach to abnormality


  • Brain Injury
  • Infection
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Genetics


  • Phineas Gage
  • Pole in his head
  • Before – best worker, lovely man
  • After – aggressive, impulsive, different person
  • Don’t know if it was frontal cortex
  • Korsakoff Syndrome - Caused by heavy drink and drugs and effects the brain


  • Cause one illness that could lead to a secondary illness that has psychological symptoms
  • Influenza virus was linked to schizophrenia
  • Brown et al
  • Found 14% of schizophrenic causes may be linked to the foetus being exposed to the flu virus in the womb during the 1st trimester


  • Too much or too little can be lead to psychopathology
  • High serotonin – manic state in Bi-polar
  • Too little serotonin – depression
  • High dopamine – schizophrenia  


  • Individuals may inherit a predisposition to certain illness carried in genes through DNA which pass from one generation to the next
  • Predisposition – inherit a vulnerability to a particular disease based on genetic factors – in a situation that triggers it

Genetic research

  • Twin studies
  • Monozygotic (MZ) – identical
  • Dizygotic (DZ) – fraternal

Biological approach exam content

  • Psychological disorders have an organic or physical cause
  • Tend to include brain injury, infection, neurotransmitters and genetics
  • Mental disorders are related to the physical structure and function of the brain
  • For example, neurotransmitters are thought to have involvement in conditions such as schizophrenias, bi-polar and depression.
  • High dopamine – schizophrenia
  • Low serotonin – depression
  • High serotonin – Bi-polar
  • Treatments from the biological approach focusses on the organic of physical causes of abnormality, these include drug treatments and ECT (Electro convulsive therapy)
  • Research support – McGuffin et al – twin study – link genetics and depression
  • Weissman et al – providing a genetic link – same family which reduces the strength of the support for the approach
  • Brain scanning and tech has identified biological aspects of many conditions
  • Biological treatments are very effective
  • Reductionist – it simplifies complex disorders to a simple set of factors and ignores other approaches
  • Genetic studies do not provide 100% concordance for a genetic link which suggests that other factors may cause it - Trigger is stress – not purely biological
  • Drug treatment can provide support but not effective for all people and all disorders – other factors are into play
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Biological approach – ways to study genetics

Weissman et al – family

  • Relatives of people diagnosed before the age of 20 and 8 times greater chance of being diagnosed with depression if their relatives had depression
  • Not clear if findings were due to genetics or shared environment
  • Results from family studies can be inconclusive

Muguffin et al – twins

  • Studies twins where one already suffered from depression
  • MZ twins – 46% concordance (suffer from the same conditions) rate for depression
  • DZ  twins – 20% concordance rate for depression
  • Can’t tell if ...

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