Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment in Psychiatry

Scientific Areas Relevant to Modern Psychiatry

General Developmental Theories-Attachment Theory

Attachment Theory

Bowlby generated a theory of attachment that has had enormous influence in contemporary developmental psychology. According to Bowlby, infants are born with innate tendencies to seek direct contact with an adult (usually the mother). In contrast to Freud’s perspective that early attachment-seeking is a function of a desire for the mother’s breast (and food), Bowlby argued that attachment seeking is directed toward social contact with the mother (the desire for a love relationship) and driven by fear of unknown others. By about 6??8 months of age, separation from the mother arouses distress, analogous to free-floating anxiety. The distress of a short-term separation is replaced quickly by the warmth of the reunion with the mother, but longer separations (such as occur in hospitalization or abandonment) can induce clinging, suspicion, and anxiety upon reunion. Similar effects are seen in older children until individuation occurs, at which point the child is cognitively able to hold a mental representation of the mother while she is gone, enabling the child to explore novelty.

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General Developmental Theories-Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory

Bandura’s social learning theory, though acknowledging the constraints of biological origins and the role of neural mediating mechanisms, emphasizes the role of the individual’s experience of the environment in development. Other learning theories are based on the organism’s direct performance of behaviors, whereas social learning theory posits that most learning occurs vicariously by observing and imitating models. For survival and growth, humans are designed to acquire patterns of behavior through observational learning. Social behavior in particular is a function of one’s social learning history, instigation mechanisms, and maintaining mechanisms.

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General Developmental Theories-Ecological Theory

Ecological Theory

Ecological theory evolved from the recognition that even though the environment has a major effect on development, many models of development have limited generalizability across contexts. Consider, for example, classic studies by Tulkin and his colleagues on the effect of mother-infant interaction patterns on the infant’s development of language and mental abilities. This effect is stronger among socioeconomic middle-class families than among lower-class families. Likewise, Scarr has found that the magnitude of genetic influences on intellectual development varies according to the cultural group being studied. Greater genetic effects are observed in middle-class white groups than in lower-class African-American groups. Among lower-class families, different influences on development are operating. Findings such as these led ecological theorists such as Lewin, Bronfenbrenner, and Barker to conclude that models of development are bounded by the context in which they are framed.

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General Developmental Theories-Attribution Theory

Attribution Theory
The emphasis on cognition in social learning theory is largely consequence oriented (ie, based on individuals’ cognitions about the likely outcomes of their behavior). Attribution theory is more concerned with how people understand the causes of behavior. Its origins are in the naive or common-sense psychology of Heider, who suggested that an individual’s beliefs about events play a more important role in behavior than does the objective truth of events. For social interactions, an individual’s beliefs about the causes of another person’s behavior are more crucial than are the true causes. For example, in deciding whether to retaliate aggressively against a peer following a provocation (such as being bumped from behind), a person often uses an attribution about the peer’s intention. If the peer had acted accidentally then no retaliation occurs, but if the peer had acted maliciously then retaliation may be likely. The perceiver’s task in social exchanges is to decide which effects of an observed action are intentional (reflecting dispositions) and which are situational.

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Developmental Concepts

The concept of development forms the backbone of modern behavioral science. Psychiatric practitioners and behavioral scientists are concerned primarily with change, and developmental psychology is the scientific study of the structure, function, and processes of systematic change across the life span. Even systems of classification of behavior (including psychiatric nosology) take into account not only contemporaneous features and formal similarities among current symptoms but also past qualities, immediate consequences, and long-term outcomes.

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