Schizophrenia & the Biological Perspective

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Biological Perspective & Schizophrenia

Q. Does the Biological perspective in abnormal psychology make other perspectives obsolete? Answer with reference to one mental disorder of your choice. (35% of total module marks).

Psychologists have been trying to understand mental illnesses, and many years ago, the biological perspective was the most popular due to its scientific nature. Schizophrenia – a chronic condition whereby patients lose touch with reality – was best explained by the Dopamine Hypothesis for example. However, recent progression in Schizophrenia research emphasizes the importance of non-biological factors as well, such as environmental stressors. Thus a Diathesis-Stress model is generally accepted by many today.

Schizophrenia is seen as a disease caused by the over-activity of dopamine receptors in the mesolimbic pathway i.e. the Dopamine Hypothesis (Richard Hall, 1998).This consequently increases the levels of dopamine in our brains, said to cause hallucinations and delusions in patients. To prove this, amphetamines (drugs that increase dopamine levels in the brain) were administered to rats in small dosages Randrup et al. (1966), which produced rotational behaviour – said to be associated with hallucinations. PET brain scans further showed that dopamine levels had infact increased. The main critism facing the conclusions of such studies is that humans and animals have different physiology. This thus limits generalisability. However, similar investigations have been carried out on humans, despite ethical concerns, but yielding consistent results.

Anti-psychotic drugs – most effective being Clozapine – were created, so as to reduce dopamine levels. These have shown to be highly effective in calming patients down and helping them cope with the illness, especially concerning hallucinations and delusions.

However, there is a lot more to the disorder i.e. social withdrawal, apathy, alogia and inability to communicate emotion through voice and facial expressions – all of which are symptoms that are not affected by the drug in any way. This suggests that there is more to the disease than just increased levels of dopamine. Before disregarding the Biological perspective however, it is essential to consider that glutamate, serotonin and GABA (Gamma – Amino Butyric Acid) , other neurotransmitters found in the brain, have been suggested to also have an affect in the development of mental illnesses, but evidence is limited.

The Biological perspective also takes into consideration the view that there could be a predisposition to schizophrenia. In fact, Alastair (2000) provides evidence for this idea via his meta-analysis of twin studies conducted in the UK and Japan since 1995. He found that the concordance rate (CR) for schizophrenia between Monozygotic (MZ) twins is 41-65%, whereas, that for Dizygotic (DZ) twins is 0-28%. Similar research has been conducted globally, ensuring that these conclusions are generalisable.

However, some Psychologists argue against this saying that because twins share the same pre-natal and (sometimes) post-natal environments; this is what is really causing schizophrenia, not genes. Furthermore, it is often questioned that if MZ twins share 100% of the same genes, then they should have a much higher CR than 65%. Despite, these arguments, a predisposition to schizophrenia is still evident. Most Psychologists do believe that there is a predisposition to schizophrenia and that environmental stressors trigger its development. This is known as the Diathesis Stress Model, whereby both perspectives are seen to equally contribute in understanding schizophrenia and other mental health issues. Environmental stressors come in many forms, for example poverty, racial discrimination, communication with families, stereotyping by individuals in society and the use of drugs – all of which are expanded on in the following few paragraphs.

Firstly, the Sociogenic Hypothesis explains how...
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