Taking a holistic approach to the course

connections jigsawI have been trying over the past few years to do this, and am sometimes asked what I mean by ‘a holistic approach.’  The easy way is to demonstrate using an example. If you are teaching/studying the abnormal psychology option, for instance, you will probably be doing this after you have spent some time looking at the core approaches to explaining human behaviour (biological cognitive and sociocultural) and also looking at research methods and ethics.

So, now comes the time to apply your learning to the content of this option. Explore the differences between psychiatry (more medically and biologically based) and psychology (more cognitively and socially based). Take major depressive disorder, for example: how might a psychiatrist explain it?  How might they look for evidence to see if their explanation is correct and what sort of evidence would they see as valuable? How valid is their method of looking for evidence? How reliable is it? Does it allow them to develop a theory of etiology of MDD that has good explanatory power? How might they want to treat MDD once they are sure a person is suffering from it? Discuss the benefits and limitations of this treatment. Are there any ethical considerations regarding this treatment? 

Now, how might a cognitive psychologist explain MDD? How would s/he look for evidence and what would they accept as evidence? How valid is this method? How reliable is it? Does it allow them to develop a theory of etiology of MDD that has good explanatory power? How would a cognitive psychologist treat MDD.  Discuss the strengths and limitations of this treatment. Are there ethical considerations regarding this treatment?

What about sociocultural arguments that childhood trauma, domestic violence, poverty and stress can all singly or in combination be responsible for MDD? That removing the conditions that lead to MDD is the best treatment? 

Finally, consider the eclectic approach that is more common nowadays. What is the evidence that a combined approach to both the diagnosis, explanation of* and treatment for MDD may be more successful than a single approach? What is the evidence that doing nothing also works? What about a choice of approaches, or sequential treatment?

If we start the abnormal psychology option with these questions and work together to answer them, then the specific content becomes easier to understand in context of perspectives on abnormal psychology, and within the framework of approaches to research. This can be put into practice in the other options as well. Put it all together!

*e.g. Interaction between genetic vulnerability, environmental trigger and possible faulty cognition.

Social cognitive theory – so much more than Bobo-bashing!

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Most students and teachers of psychology are familiar with Bandura, Ross & Ross’s classic study into the role of social modelling in aggression*  It showed that children who observed aggressive acts committed by adults in one setting would, through play, reproduce those acts in another setting when the adult role model was absent. Bandura extended this social learning model in the 1980s into what is now a complex and comprehensive social cognitive theory, further developing and exploring concepts underpinning social behaviour: performance feedback, modelling, and – most importantly of all – moral disengagement.

Moral disengagement is the process by which we disengage our moral self in order to distance ourselves from our actions. It can be seen in soldiers who need to disconnect themselves from their actions in order to live with themselves, and in us every time we buy our food in non-recyclable plastic packaging. The decision to go to war in a just cause can be a moral one, but it still involves killing fellow human beings. The desire for conveniently packaged food is an understandable one, but it still involves environmentally degrading our planet.

Bandura uses social cognitive theory to investigate our moral disengagement from  harmful activities. He applies it particularly effectively to drone warfare and to the arms trade. In class I use it to explain how we dehumanise the homeless in order to ignore homelessness.

For Bandura, it is not enough to explain moral disengagement.  He believes that if we can understand the processes underlying it, then we can begin to change them, and this is why he promotes social change through locally-distributed films in Africa, Asia and South America, making the abstract explanations of social cognitive theory concrete to people’s lives. Nearer home, we need to use storytelling and media to keep advertising the environmental dangers of uncontrolled consumption. Psychology has a vital role in social change as well as social explanation, for “As a society, we enjoy the benefits left by those before us who collectively worked for social changes that improved our lives. Our own collective efficacy will determine whether we pass on a habitable planet to our grandchildren and future generations.” (Bandura, 2009

*For those of you who have already bought our book (thank you!), the description of the study design has been changed from a matched pairs to a ‘matched triads’ as the children were matched by measured levels of aggression across the three experimental groups.  The effect is the same, to control this variable. We will publish this change in an updated edition in the future.

Fun Bowlby’s theory revision game!

It’s that time of year (January – yuck! to put it bluntly) when my students are about to embark on mock exams. How nice for them, just after Christmas/Hannukah/Winter Solstice celebrations. But, as I tell them, I don’t schedule these things, don’t blame me, so instead of sinking into gloom, I get them up on their feet, moving about the room and staring at each others’ backs. Erm, why? Because the following is a fun (!) revision game which will get them back into Bowlby.

Easy-peasy instructions:

1 Teacher cuts out and copies each of the Bowlby questions and answers (see below).

2 Each student is given one question from the list below. For a small group, give them two questions each. Each student also has the answer to someone else’s question stuck to their back (make sure they haven’t got the answer to their own question stuck to their back – doh!)

3 Having read their questions, the students walk around the room reading the various answers on the other students’ backs. When they think they have found the answer to their question they rip the answer off the back of their fellow student (gently: watch that pricey cashmere cardigan), hold it aloft and say ‘I’m a genius!’ And then we find out if they actually are when questions and answers are compared.

Here are the questions and answers for the Bowlby-answers-on-backs game:

What side of one of the oldest debates in Psychology does Bowlby’s theory give support to?

Nature.

What is separation anxiety?

The fear of being left alone by your primary care-giver.

What did Bowlby call the schematic representations of the world that a child develops?

Internal working model.

What is interactional synchrony?

When parent and child match each other’s gestures.

What is maternal deprivation theory?

When a child is prevented from developing a bond with its mother.

How does the attachment figure act as a secure base for the child?

By providing security and protection for the child so that they are confident to explore the world.

What is a primary attachment figure?

The main carer for the child; the person who cares for the child physically and emotionally.

What social signals (‘releasers’) does a baby produce?

Smiling, babbling, grasping and crying.

What wider theory is Bowlby’s theory based on?

Evolutionary theory.

What did Bowlby think was a basic biological need?

A close relationship between the child and the mother.

What is stranger anxiety?

The child’s response when an unfamiliar person tries to communicate with them.

See the source image