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Discovering Psychology: Updated Edition

Psychopathology

Psychopathology is the twenty-first program in the Discovering Psychology series. Through glimpses of the original theories of Philippe Pinel, this program explores the biological and psychological components of mental illness, as well as the role of genetics and cultural factors. It also takes a closer look at a few of the major mental illnesses like depression, neurosis, manic-depressive disorders, and schizophrenia.

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Experiment: The Genetics of Schizophrenia


Psychopathology is defined as the study of any significant behavioral or psychological syndrome that impairs an individual’s daily functioning in society. The current dialogue among doctors and researchers treating mental disorders explores the intersection of genetics and environment in major mental illnesses.

In their study of schizophrenia, a psychotic breakdown of integrated personality functioning, Drs. Irving Gottesman and E. Fuller Torrey conducted an ongoing study of 60 sets of identical twins. In 30 sets, one twin had schizophrenia, and the other did not. In 20 sets, both twins had schizophrenia. The remaining 10 sets of twins served as a control group for normal brain functioning; neither had schizophrenia.

Drs. Gottesman and Torrey conducted in-depth interviews with all the twins and their parents. Then the twins underwent a series of tests in an effort to determine the causes of schizophrenia. In one test, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and SPECT analysis were used to measure the flow of blood to specific parts of the brain during a variety of problem-solving activities.

The results revealed differences between the brains of twins with schizophrenia and those without schizophrenia. In the brains of twins with schizophrenia, the ventricles carrying fluids in the brain were bigger, indicating a loss of brain tissue and an altering of the brain structure.

This research provided evidence of the biological component of schizophrenia. Other factors that may contribute to schizophrenia are more environmental, including concussions, drug use, or severe viruses. Psychosocial stresses may be implicated as well. This interactionist perspective in Drs. Gottesman and Torrey’s study expands the traditional methods of identifying and treating mental illness.

Dr. Gottesman has an extensive Web site at the University of Virginia with articles and book excerpts.

Glossary

Affective Disorders: Any disorder in which the primary symptoms are associated with mood disturbances, such as extreme depression, excessive elation, or both.

Agoraphobia: An extreme fear of public places or open spaces.

Anxiety Disorder: A mental disorder in which an individual experiences physiological arousal and feelings of tension, tremor, shaking, and general apprehension without obvious reason or provocation.

Drapetomania: A fictitious mental illness believed to cause slaves to run away from their masters and obsessively seek freedom. An example of the misuse of the medical model of psychopathology.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A technique for exploring the human brain, using magnetic fields and radio waves to generate and record energy pulses within the brain.

Psychopathology: The study of mental disorders, or any significant behavioral or psychological syndrome, that is an impairment to an individual’s areas of functioning.

Schizophrenia: A psychotic disorder consisting of the breakdown of integrated personality functioning, withdrawal from reality, emotional disturbance, or all of the above.

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