To what extent do biological, cognitive and sociocultural factors influence abnormal behavior?

Biological factors

Genetic predisposition (e.g. depression, schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa)

Imbalance of neurotransmitters (anorexia nervosa and depression – serotonin, schizophrenia - depression

Hormones (anorexia nervosa: cortisol, orexin)

(Caspi 2003)

Aim: To investigate the relationship between the 5-HTT gene (The serotonine transporter gene) and depression

Participants: 847 Caucasian New Zealanders

Dependent variable: Self report on depression

Controls: Checked that participants were honest in self report by cross checking with friend, same levels of stressful life events

Findings: Having a short allele of the 5-HTT gene correlated with increased vulnerability for depression between ages of 21 to 26

Cognitive factors

Cognitive theorists believe that abnormality is caused by unrealistic, distorted or irrational understanding, perceptions and thoughts about oneself, others or the environment. Abnormal behavior is also caused by difficulty in controlling thought processes or using them to control actions

- A depressed mood can lead to depressed thoughts
- Depressed cognitions, cognitive distortions, and irrational beliefs produce disturbances in mood

Goldapple (2004)
Aim: To investigate how cognitive behavior therapy affects brain changes
Research method: Experiment
Procedure: PET scans were used to document brain activity before and after 15 to 20 therapies of cognitive therapy over seven weeks in 14 patients. PET scans from a previous study on participants taking antidepressants were used as a control group. Participants were screened to ensure that they had no substance problems or antidepressant treatment one month prior to the study. Some of the participants reported reported previous negative experiences with drug therapy
Findings: there were significant changes in glucose metabolism in prefrontal-hippocampal pathways. The changes on the brain were the same as with antidepressants.
Lyon & Woods (1991)
Compared 70 Cognitive Therapy outcone studies with behavior therapy and other psychotherapies.
Cognitive therapy demonstrated better improvement than other groups
Effect size was related to therapist experience and duration of therapy
There were some methodological flaws: attribution rates (some participants dropped out) and lack of follow updata.
These studies show that cognitive factors influence abnormal behavior because they can affect a persons thoughts or cognition.
They're mood changes after the therapy, which aims to change their thought patterns.
Since their moods have improved after therapy, we can assume that their mood is affected by negative thoughts
Weakness: It ignores the other factors and only focuses on one factor. Does not take into account the biological and sociocultural factors
Strengths: It is testable and applicable- it is supported by studies.

Sociocultural factors

- Members of society that break social and cultural norms are defined as abnormal
- Labeling people as abnormal establish clear norms of reality and appropriate behaviour (conformity)
- In order to keep their definition of reality, the family, general practitioners and psychiatrists conspire against the “insane” by imprisoning and degrading them as human beings
- Social identity theory: People who are not included in the in-group are defined as abnormal
- Abnormal behaviour violates moral or ideal standards or differs from commonly accepted beliefs or ways of thinking. It is a way to find a dispositional cause of disruptive behaviour instead of situational factors (fundamental attribution error). Instead of saying “evil”, “bad” or “crazy”, we say “anti-social personality disorder” or “schizophrenia”.
- What is abnormal in one culture (e.g. strange visions, speech and behaviour) might be regarded as special or sacred in another culture (e.g. shamanism)

Supporting evidence
•Different countries have different tools for diagnosis (e.g. DSM IV-TR in United states, CCMD-3 in China)
•Homosexuality was considered to be abnormal until DSM-III (1980). It is still considered abnormal in many countries.
•Unmarried mothers in Britain and political dissidents in the Soviet unions were once confined to institutions for abnormality. The tendency for American black slaves in the 1800s to try flee captivity was considered to be a mental illness. It is claimed that psychiatry also have been used to silence political dissidents in China (e.g. the Falungong movement)
•The existence of culture-bound syndromes (emics)
•Gender differences in mental health (which may be due to differences in social expectations)
•Cultural variations in the prevalence of certain disorders

Challenging evidence
•The universality (etics) of some disorders (e.g. eating disorders, depression and behaviours associated with psychosis – e.g. delusions and hallucinations)
•Inuit tribes have linguistic distinctions between “shaman” and “crazy people” in their society (Murphy 1976)
•Many people voluntarily seek help because of their problems

Research example: Anorexia nervosa

Warin 2001: Culture & Anorexia

Aim: how people dealt with anorexia in the context of their everyday lives

Participants: 46 women and men with anorexia in Australia, Canada and Scotland


-participants did not always experience anorexia as a mental disorder

-some actually saw it as "an empowering process that opened up a whole new way of relating to the world"

-patients joined together in treatment settings to form highly secretive "cults" or "clubs" with others who shared their diagnosis