Biological (medical) Model
Evaluation of the biological
explanations of abnormality
Strengths & Limitations (Ao2)
Biological (medical) Model
• Issues for evaluation:
– The evidence
– The use of drugs
– The patient role
– Blame and stigma
Biological (medical) Model
• Inherited genetic abnormality
– Some evidence from family & twin studies
• Endocrine & neurochemical abnormalities
– Some supportive findings, but problems with
discerning cause & effect
Biological (medical) Model
• Evidence
– Plenty of studies have found that
psychological disturbance is associated
with biological changes (e.g. in
neurotransmitters & hormones)
• However…
– It is often impossible to tell whether such
changes are a cause or an effect of the
psychological symptoms
Biological (medical) Model
• The use of drug therapies
– The biomedical model has led to the
development of drug therapies that are
often effective in controlling psychological
• However…
– When drugs are discontinued, symptoms
often return, suggesting the actual cause
is elsewhere
Biological (medical) Model
• The patient role
– The biomedical model offers people a role
and treatments they are familiar with, and
are often happy to go along with
• However…
– It encourages them to become passive
and dependent and to hand over control of
their lives to the expert – this might not
actually be good for them.
Biological (medical) Model
• Blame & stigma
– Biomedical processes are assumed to be
beyond patient’s control; they are not
blamed for their predicament or behaviour
• However…
– Critics argue that society isolates and
stigmatises the mentally ‘ill’, which is just
as bad
Biological (medical) Model
• Strength 1: It is scientific. The results of treatment can
be measured and manipulated until we have a
satisfactory outcome, e.g. we can vary the dosage of
Prozac until the depressed patient is able to function
• Strength 2: The patient is seen as being ‘ill’ and
therefore not responsible (to blame) for their behaviour.
Although the label of mental illness still carries a stigma
in our society. It is reassuring to most people to learn
that their behaviour has an organic/medical cause that
can be corrected by medical treatment.
Biological (medical) Model
• Limitation 1: It may be useful in dealing with the symptoms of
mental illness but it may not be effective in resolving the
underlying causes. Mental illness may have multiple causes,
including cognitive and behavioural causes. It does not take
these into consideration. It is always dangerous to reduce a
complex phenomenon to a single explanation (reductionism).
• Limitation 2: Medical intervention may have undesirable side
effects. Very few drugs can be used without negative side
effects, e.g. prolonged use of Prozac is associated with suicidal
thoughts. Drugs may also encourage addiction and
dependency similar to nicotine addiction. In addition,
techniques such as ECT and psychosurgery are invasive,
unpredictable and often irreversible.
Evaluating how the Biological Approach
explains abnormality
“The biological approach can be evaluated
in a number of ways. Firstly, there is the
concept of ‘no blame’. This means that if a
person is labelled as mentally ill, their
actions are not their fault, but that of their
biological problem. Secondly, it can also be
criticised as people are encouraged to
become passive patients, handing over
responsibility for their illness to others. This
is relinquishing responsibility. Finally, the
biological explanation of abnormality is
criticised as being reductionist, as it breaks
down a complex issue into a fundamental
level when it is more likely a combination of
many factors
*Biological Approach* (AO2)
No Blame
If we diagnose
someone as having
a mental “illness”
then it has
When using the
medical model
people are
encouraged to be
The biological
approach tends to
break down
explanations to the
most basic level…
EXPLAIN the criticisms in more detail
APPLY research that evaluates the Biological Approach:

Biological Approach to explaining abnormality (Evaluation, Ao2)