S-Cool Revision Summary

S-Cool Revision Summary

What is abnormal psychology?

The distinction between 'normal' and 'abnormal' behaviour is not clear-cut. Psychologists have tried to define abnormality in several different ways:

Type: Definition: Criticism:
Statistical infrequency Deviation from the 'norm' or average population. Does not account for social acceptability or type of behaviour. For example, very high intelligence is abnormal because it is rare. Also, eccentric behaviour that is rare but acceptable is also abnormal.
Deviation from social norms Going against society's accepted codes of behaviour. Social norms vary from one society to another and standards change. For example, in our society, it used to be considered far more abnormal to be an unmarried mother than it is now.
Failure to function adequately Person cannot maintain social relationships or hold down a job. Apart from social dysfunction, this also includes being in a disabling state of distress. Problems include the fact that some mental disorders do not cause distress and that sometimes it is normal to be distressed. Withdrawal from society may be mental disorder, but not necessarily.
Deviation from ideal mental health Person does not meet all criteria considered necessary for 'normal', healthy functioning. The standards for ideal mental health are generally difficult to measure and so demanding that most people fail to meet them anyway!

Cultural relativism: Some disorders are specific to some cultures, or found in some populations more than others. It is difficult to say whether the disorders are really less common amongst some people, possibly for genetic reasons, or whether there are differences in diagnosis.

For example: British African-Caribbean people are far more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than other members of the population, the reasons could be genetic, to do with social conditions and stress, or bias and prejudice in the medical system.

Model: Assumptions on Causes: Treatments:
Biological (medical) Physical causes, (genetics, biochemistry). Somatic - drugs.
Psychodynamic (psychoanalytical) Unresolved emotional conflicts in early life, now repressed. Talking to bring out and work through unconscious conflicts.
Behavioural Abnormal behaviour is learned by association and reinforcement. Focus on learning new responses to situations.
Cognitive Faulty thinking distorts perception of things. Challenging the way a person sees themselves.

Eating disorders are complex and can be life-threatening illnesses. They involve biological and psychological factors.

Over 90% of people diagnosed with eating disorders are adolescent or young women.
Eating disorders are rare in boys but increasing. The rate is less than one tenth that of females.
Approximately 1% of females aged 15-30 in the US and UK suffers from anorexia nervosa, although estimates vary.
About 2-3% of young women develop bulimia nervosa, but it is harder to detect and may be many more.
There are about fifty times more female sufferers of bulimia nervosa than male.
About 10% of sufferers of anorexia nervosa, and about 3% of sufferers of bulimia nervosa, die through their illness, often by suicide due to severe depression.
At least 15% below normal body weight. Person sees himself or herself as overweight even when extremely thin.
Person is terrified of weight gain. Food and weight are obsessions.
Compulsive behaviour around food. Amenorrhea in females (menstruation stops).
Impotence in males.
Starvation causes damage to vital organs such as the brain and heart. The body slows down to try to protect itself: periods stop, even breathing rate, pulse and blood pressure drop.
Nails and hair become brittle and the skin dries, yellows and grows downy hair. Bones become brittle due to loss of calcium.
Excessive thirst and frequent urination. Dehydration and, consequently, constipation.
Inability to cope with the cold due to lack of body fat. Severe depression.
Consumption of large amounts of food (bingeing), followed by purging or exercising obsessively. Obsession with body weight and shape.
Bingeing and purging from once or twice a week to several times a day. Low self-esteem and fear of failure is typical (may not always be apparent).
Strong need for acceptance and reassurance.
Risk of heart failure due to loss of nutrients, especially potassium; also when drugs used to stimulate vomiting, bowel movements and urination. Risk of stomach rupture.
Acid in vomit wears tooth enamel and teeth scar backs of hands. Gullet (oesophagus) and cheeks become inflamed and swollen.
Irregular menstruation. Loss of interest in sex.
Severe depression.
  1. Biochemistry

  2. Genetics

  3. Personality

  4. Social and family environment

  5. Media images and messages about food and dieting

Behavioural Elaboration of basic idea that attention and praise that weight loss reinforces dieting and process continues.
Psychoanalytic Repression of sexual impulses or childhood abuse leads to anxiety expressed as an eating disorder.
Medical Malfunctions in brain chemistry, linked with distributed levels of neutotransmitters.
Humanistic Way of gaining control over own life rather that parental control: high incidence in middle class, where lot of pressure to succeed.
Cognitive Distorted body image and irrational thinking leads to fear of gaining weight.

Note: it is most likely that there is no one single, simple answer as to what causes eating disorders - all of the possible explanations outlined above may be part of the story. Individuals may have different reasons for developing the same symptoms.

Eating disorders are characterised by very complex interactions of emotional and physical, problems. Because of this, eating disorders need to be treated by a combination of approaches.

Eating disorders are often associated with chemical imbalances in the brain. These have been found to be similar to the chemical imbalances associated with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Low levels of some neurotransmitters, for example, serotonin and noradrenaline, are found in acutely ill anorexia and bulimia sufferers. Serotonin is associated with suppression of appetite and mood, low serotonin levels are linked to bingeing and depression.

Anorexia nervosa and depression feature high levels of cortisol, this is a hormone released by the brain in response to stress.

A hormone called CCK, found to be at low levels in people with bulimia nervosa, causes animals to feel full and stop eating.

Note: we do not know much detail about how these chemicals in the brain work, whether biochemical changes are the cause of disorders or effects of having the disorder.

Eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa, tend to run in families. This suggests that there might be a genetic factor.

Twin studies carried out on identical twins, brought up together, have shown a 50% concordance rate for anorexia nervosa, this suggests possible genetic factor.

The link is less clear for bulimia nervosa - studies of identical twins have shown concordance rates of 23%.

Genetic factors and social, environmental influences within a family are hard to separate. Some studies have shown evidence that family tensions may trigger eating disorders.

Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are most common in white people in western societies. How much this is due to genetic factors and how much it is due to social and cultural pressures is hard to tell.

A study in Fiji showed a sudden increase in eating disorders among young women since the arrival of television in 1995, (Fearn, 1999). This suggests a strong social and cultural component.

There may be a genetic component that makes some people more likely to develop an eating disorder in response to stress or other environmental factors.

Personality might play a part: sufferers of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa tend to have perfectionist personalities. Sufferers desperately want to be accepted and valued and tend to feel that they are not.

The media create unrealistic, and for most people, unattainable 'ideal' images, especially of women. Most models are well below normal weight for their age and height. Successful women in films are almost always portrayed as thin.

Hamilton and Waller (1993) showed that women with eating disorders were more affected by fashion magazine photos, and overestimated their own size and shape after seeing them, than women not diagnosed with eating disorders.

Women in professions, or sports, which encourage thinness like long distance running, ballet and gymnastics, show a high proportion of eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa. This supports the idea that eating disorders can be triggered by environmental pressures. Of course not all women in these professions develop eating disorders.

  1. Call a local help line or clinic for expert advice.

  2. Understand possible causes of eating disorders, food alone is not the main issue.

  3. Don't make judgements.

  4. Try to offer, caring support and help the person feel valued for other qualities than looks.

  5. A person with an eating disorder may not accept that they need help; family and friends will need to offer encouragement and information.

  6. Find out as much as you can so that you understand what they are going through, but don't try to act an expert yourself.

  7. Encourage the person to find something that they enjoy doing to channel their energy into.