Discuss the Biological Approach in Psychology

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Discuss the biological approach in psychology. Refer to at least one other approach in your answer. (12 marks) The biological approach focuses on both the physiological and evolutionary aspects which explain human behaviour. The causal level of analysis incorporates physiological explanations, such as the effect of nerves and hormones on behaviour. According to biological psychologists, behaviour is controlled by the nervous system, which consists of the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (the surrounding nerves), which itself includes the autonomic nervous system that controls automatic processes such as heart rate and the fight or flight syndrome. Within the central nervous system, neurons communicate with each other via sending chemical impulses, neurotransmitters, across synapses. Biopsychologists believe that these chemical processes in the brain directly influence human behaviour. Too much or too little of these chemicals can result in over-activity or under-activity in various parts of the brain; this alters thoughts, emotions and behaviour. For example, a link has been made between excessive dopaminergic activity in the brain and the incidence of schizophrenia. Pearlson et al (1993) used Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans and found a substantial increase in D2 receptors in patients with schizophrenia. Seeman et al (1993) also used PET scans, finding six times the density of D4 receptors in the brains of schizophrenic individuals. A limitation of such studies is the idea of cause and effect; for example, it is unclear whether the increase in dopamine receptors causes schizophrenia or is a result of the neuroleptic drugs taken. Yet, Pearlson’s study was carried out on individuals who had not been exposed to neuroleptic drugs, which therefore rules out cause and effect. Neuroimaging studies are able to study the structure and functioning of the brain, and have the advantage of being non-invasive. Researchers have shown how behaviour can be affected by different levels of sex hormones, for example increased testosterone has been linked to aggression and increased risk-taking. In forensic psychology, Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality suggested that individuals who offend are high on the extroversion dimension and seek constant stimulation and autonomic arousal from their environment. These individuals are also said to be high on the neuroticism dimension, with high anxiety levels and an emotionally unstable central nervous system. Their nervous system reacts strongly to aversive stimuli and, as a result, these individuals cannot effectively learn socially appropriate behaviours. Eysenck’s theory is criticised for inconsistencies between criminal activity and extroversion. Zuckerman (1969) also argued that environmental stimulation may be sought as a result of boredom, where there is increased arousal. Behaviourists also emphasise the role of the environment as a determining factor of behaviour in the nature versus nurture debate. The behaviourist approach states that all individuals are born with ‘blank slates’ (tabula rasa), with behaviour being learnt through the process of conditioning, past experiences and the environment. With reference to the forensic psychology topic, neo-behaviourists argue that criminal behaviour is learnt by observing and imitating the behaviour of role models in the environment, e.g. peers, celebrities, novel characters. The imitation of aggressive behaviour is most clearly shown in studies conducted by Bandura et al (1963), in which children who observed models performing aggressive acts on a Bobo doll later displayed this same behaviour. However this experiment is criticised for being open to demand characteristics so the children knew what was expected of them, which confounded the results (Cumberbatch, 1992). In contrast, the functional level of analysis focuses on evolutionary and genetic theories of behaviour. In...
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