The Behaviourist Explanation of Mental Illness

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  • Behaviourist Explanation of Mental Illness
    • Assumptions
      • Behaviour is learnt and a result of nurture
      • we are born as blank slates
      • Behaviour is learnt through either association, rewards and punishments or the imitation of role models
      • in relation to mental illness, this theory suggests that mental disorders are learned and maintained through reinforcement, association or imitation
      • This explanation is better for anxiety disorders
    • Social Learning Theory and Mental Illness
      • behaviours are learnt through a process of observation and imitation
      • perhaps disorders are like depression and anxiety can be explained through observation and imitation
        • If a role model with an anxiety disorder models characteristics of their phobia, an individual might observe the symptoms and imitate them
      • If a child has witnessed someone reacting to a challenge in an unhealthy, maladaptive, or irrational way they might learn the behaviour and adopt it themselves
        • a child may develop a phobia that one of their parents has
    • Classical Conditioning and Mental Illness
      • behaviour is learnt through association
      • a behaviour or emotional response is learnt through pairings
      • Pavlov managed to condition dogs to salivate in response to something completely neutral (a bell)
        • suggests that we pair a neutral stimulus with a response eg. fear, that the association of a rear response with that stimuli means that the previously neutral stimuli is no longer neutral but feared
        • Someone with agoraphobia may have had an embarrassing experience in public and now associates that feeling with the public place
      • Watson & Rayner's Little Albert study investigated the ability to associate a feared response with a neutral stimuli
        • Little Albert was shown different stimuli that he was initially not scared of eg. a dog, fire, white rat but took the stimulus of a white rat and made a loud noise every time it appeared
        • Little Albert began to associate the loud noise with the white rat, and eventually reacted with fear when seeing the white rat without any loud noise
        • A phobia had been conditioned
    • Operant Conditioning and Mental Illness
      • behaviours are learnt and encouraged through reinforcement
      • Negative reinforcement is when a behaviour leads to something bad being removed, and as such, causing the behaviour that led to the removal being repeated
      • according to this theory, phobias are learnt and maintained through negative reinforcement
        • anxiety disorders like phobias are characterised by avoidance ie negative reinforcement
      • The removal of unpleasant symptoms leads that individual to repeat the behaviour that caused the anxiety being reduced before


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