Assessing the Biological Model: Strengths and Weaknesses

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  • 0:06 Biological Model
  • 1:44 Benefits
  • 3:51 Drawbacks
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What causes mental illness? Some psychologists believe that psychological disorders are caused by physical problems. In this lesson, we'll assess the strengths and limitations of the biological model of abnormality.

Biological Model

Percy has a problem. He feels very depressed, and sometimes has trouble getting motivated to do anything. He stays in bed sometimes and just thinks about how bad his life is.

Hal, on the other hand, has no problems getting out of bed. In fact, he's often surrounded by people because he loves parties and being the center of attention. But, Hal doesn't care about anyone but himself. He has no problems ignoring the rights of others in order to get what he wants. He even punched a guy out once because the guy wouldn't give up his seat in the bar.

Though Percy and Hal are very different, they both have psychological issues. Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. But, just as Percy and Hal are different, psychologists vary in the way that they approach abnormality. Some psychologists believe that mental health problems are a result of childhood issues. They might say that Percy is depressed because he's suppressing some childhood trauma, for example.

Others believe that psychological disorders spring from unhealthy thought processes. To them, Percy's depression is a result of a negative train of thought. The biological model of abnormality says that psychological disorders are a result of biological issues. According to this model, Percy's depression might be caused by a chemical imbalance in his brain. Let's look closer at the strengths and limitations of the biological model of abnormal psychology.


The biological model is a popular one in modern psychology, and there are many reasons why. For one thing, it's a very scientific way of looking at problems. Brain scans and other forms of technology allow psychologists to 'see' what is happening in a patient's head. Compare that to Freud's psychoanalytic model. Freud said that psychological issues come from tensions in the subconscious mind. That is, people don't always know what is causing the problem because it's beyond their conscious mind.

The problem is, there's no way to measure that. No one has a subconscious-o-meter to measure tension in the subconscious, but brain activity, structure, and chemicals can all be measured. In this way, the biological model can be scientifically tested.

Remember Hal? He acts selfishly and impulsively and has no regard for the rights of others. Hal has antisocial personality disorder. Many scientific studies have shown that people like Hal have brains that function differently than people who do not have antisocial personality disorder. Unlike some other ways of looking at antisocial personality disorder, the biological model has scientific studies to back it up.

Another benefit of the biological model is that it has a high success rate in treatment. For example, someone like Percy might be given an antidepressant drug and might begin to feel better. Whether it's medication or less common biological treatments, like electroconvulsive therapy or psychosurgery, modern biological treatments have shown to be successful at treating mental illness, particularly in patients who do not respond well to talk therapy.

A final benefit of the biological model is that it can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. While no one feels like it's their fault if they catch a cold, many people blame themselves if they feel depressed or anxious. Because the biological model looks at psychological disorders in the same way that we look at physical diseases, there is less stigma attached to them.

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