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Anorexia Nervosa cannot be satisfactorily accounted for by any single model of abnormality

Essay Topic:

Anorexia is a condition disputed by psychologists in attempts to find a cause for the problem.Anorexia is when an individual chooses to emaciate themselves in order to be thin.There are two main types of reasoning behind such behaviour.

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The biological and psychological explanation. Of course, there are many forms of branched out explanations within these, and the two of which that I shall be exploring are the genetic justification (in terms of biological) and the behaviourist approach, for the psychological relation.

Biological psychologists believe that human behaviour and what makes us do what we do, is all down to genes. With the new advance in recent science, genes are becoming a more popular reasoning to many psychological issues. Anorexia nervosa for one. The genetic approach proclaims that the cause for anorexia is to do with genes: i.e. the genetic and inherited factors we have within our relations. The idea is that should one family member suffer from an eating disorder, then there is a higher chance that another family member (preferably those who share the same, or like genes) would contract an eating, or another obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Holland et al, a group of psychologists, lead a study on the genetic link of anorexia nervosa in 1984. They perused a sample of 34 pairs of twins and one set of triplets, where at least one twin in each pair suffered from anorexia. They found a higher concordance rate of 55% for the 16 monozygotic twins (who share 100% of the same genes) than for the 14 pairs of dizygotic twins, (who share 50% of the same genes) with a concordance rate of only 7%. The results, in imprecise terms, suggested that there was a genetic link between family members suffering from anorexia nervosa.

But on closer examination of the study, we can find many other reasons, which may not be genetic, for these findings. For example, the sample amount was very small. This is a major flaw in any experiment, as the sample size often needs to a representative size, which can be extended to the whole of society, but 35 pairs of twins is an extremely small amount. Furthermore, the environmental influences were not considered in this experiment, and so the higher concordance rates for the monozygotic twins could be because they are treated more alike than the dizygotic twins. This is part of behaviourism of which I shall study later on.

In terms of reasonability, the genetic link between family members suffering from anorexia seems to be weak. Though it can be part of the reason or perhaps only accurate for only a very few, it cannot be wholly responsible for everyone who suffers from this eating disorder.

A problem with this reasoning as being the “answer” is that there is then no blame of self. Because the condition is ‘purely’ biological, the individual is then rendered hopeless and vulnerable to the disorder, as they are not in control of what is in their genes. It can also provide an ‘excuse’ so that the subject is unable, or unwilling to become better.

Psychologically, behaviourists look at how the environment and outside influences have shaped and created an individual. Predominantly in western cultures, the size of “beauty” in terms of celebrity and media has dramatically decreased in the last couple of decades. Marilyn Monroe, said to be one of the most beautiful woman of the time was a dress size 14. As the years gone by, we find that the dress size of “beauty” has gone down, and now, catwalk models are size 8’s and lower. It seems that the more rich and advanced we become, the higher our standards are, for skinnier people.

The media is a major factor in influencing the ordinary people of our society. Behaviourists believe that this is one of the main causes for people (particularly those with lower self-esteem) to develop eating disorders, in order to become more like the person in the magazine.

Because of this, people are often seen as ‘beautiful’ when they are thin. This puts pressure on people who perhaps may have been teased and felt self-conscious about their self-image. Once the individual begins to lose weight, it is often found that the criticism stops, and compliments are received in its place. This can then become a habit, and is known as “Classical conditioning”. They learn to associate being thin with feeling good about themselves. “Operant conditioning” happens when the praise and admiration from others reinforces their eating habits and causes them to want to lose more weight.

This form of explanation is very logical in certain aspects, but there are a few things that, should this theory be true, does not correspond appropriately. For example, once the sufferer begins to lose too much weight and is then the cause for concern, why is it that once the compliments stop, the sufferer still desires to lose weight? The compliments were associated to feeling good and losing weight. The compliments are no longer there, and so one would assume the feeling good should have dissolved, and due to operant conditioning, the sufferer would learn to break the habit. It is true that operant does sometimes work on promoting weight gain in some people, by if this concept was accurate, then why doesn’t everyone with anorexia respond in the same way?

“Anorexia Nervosa cannot be satisfactorily accounted for by any single model of abnormality”

It is true that anorexia cannot be the result of one cause, as we have looked at two versions of reasoning behind the condition and both explanations still leave gaps where logic or situation does not fit. Each explanation gives a valid justification to anorexia, but the problem still cannot be solved by one account of psychology. The answer may be that it is a mixture of perhaps several models of abnormality, but the fact is that anorexia nervosa is too complex and too different in every case to be the epitome of one explanation.

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