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Interactionist approach

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Interactionist approach

The nature-nurture debate questions whether our traits are biologically determined (nature) or whether they are caused by environmental influences (nurture). The nature approach argues that traits, behaviours and disorders are caused by biological predispositions related to our genes, brain structure or physiology. The nurture approach highlights the role of the environment in shaping the development of our psychological traits and behaviour.

The interactionist approach combines the arguments of nature and nurture to explain behaviours.

Interactionist Approach, Nature Nurture , StudySmarterHands holding up a leaf, flaticon.com/monkik

Interactionist Approach Definition

The interactionist approach explains the development of psychological traits, disorders and behaviour as a product of both biological and environmental influences. It recognises that multiple factors shape who we become, including our biology (genes) and environment (upbringing, culture).

Phenylketonuria is an example of how genes and the environment can interact.

Phenylketonuria is a genetic disorder that affects how people process certain proteins. If left untreated, phenylketonuria leads to intellectual disability.

However, by diagnosing children early and putting them on an appropriate diet the illness can be prevented. Despite the genetic vulnerability, an appropriate diet can prevent the expression of the genes that cause this illness.

Examples of the interactionist approach in psychology

Let's consider the following examples of the interactionist approach in psychology.

The Diathesis-Stress Model

The Diathesis-Stress Model argues that psychiatric disorders develop when biologically predisposed individuals are exposed to events that trigger the illness.

Diathesis refers to the biological predisposition and stress to environmental stressors.

Most importantly, this model recognises the role of both the biological and environmental factors that lead to the development of a disorder and explains why, when exposed to the same stressor, some people develop a psychological disorder while others don't.

Diathesis-Stress Model and Schizophrenia

In 1962, Meehl proposed a model which explained schizophrenia as a result of the combination of having the schizophrenia gene (schizogene) and exposure to chronic stress in childhood (eg. being raised by a controlling and distant mother).

According to his model, stress in childhood only activates schizophrenia in individuals with preexisting genetic vulnerability.

Currently, we know that there is no one "schizogene", recent research has found that schizophrenia is a polygenic disorder - it is caused by mutations of multiple different genes.

Diathesis - Genetic and environmental predispositions

Let's consider the genetic and environmental predispositions in the diathesis model.

Genetic predispositions for schizophrenia

Heston's (1966) adoption study found that 11% of adopted children born to mothers with schizophrenia developed schizophrenia after adoption, while no adoptees from the control group (with healthy biological mothers) did. This supports the role of genes in the development of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a polygenic disease.

Ripke (2014) studied differences in genotypes of nearly 37,000 people with schizophrenia and 113,000 healthy controls. They found differences across 128 gene locations. These findings indicate that schizophrenia is a polygenic disease. Polygenic means that it is influenced by variations in multiple different genes.

Not all people that are vulnerable have all the gene variations associated with schizophrenia. The more genetic variations characteristic of the disorder a person has the more vulnerable they are to the disease (high vulnerability), meaning they need fewer environmental stressors for the disorder to develop.

Interactionist approach, develops as a resutl of genertic vulnerability and environmental stressors, StudySmarterSchizophrenia develops as a result of genetic vulnerability and environmental stressors, StudySmarter Originals, Alicja Blaszkiewicz

Environmental predispositions to schizophrenia

Research has shown that traumatic events in childhood have long-lasting effects on physiology, which can create a predisposition for schizophrenia. Adverse Childhood Experiences affect physiological responses to stress and make people more vulnerable to stressors.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) refer to potentially traumatic events experienced in childhood. ACEs include for example events like parental loss, living with a parent struggling with addiction, witnessing or experiencing domestic violence or abuse.

Shevlin et al. (2007) measured the relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences and the probability of developing psychosis. They found a positive relationship between adverse childhood experiences and psychosis. The higher the number of adverse childhood experiences individuals reported the higher was their likelihood of experiencing psychosis.

  • People who reported one Adverse Childhood Experience were 2.5 times more likely to experience psychosis, while people who reported 5 types of Adverse Childhood Experiences were even 53 times more likely to experience psychosis.

The role of stressors in the development of schizophrenia

Stressors don't always refer to stressful events; a stressor is any event that is likely to trigger a psychotic episode. A common stressor for schizophrenia is drug use.

Interactionist approach, Cannabis use, StudySmarterCannabis use can trigger psychosis, flaticon.com

Wainberg et al. (2021) investigated the association between polygenic vulnerability for schizophrenia, cannabis use and experiences of psychosis. He recruited a UK based sample of sample 109,308 participants for his study. Wainberg found that participants with high polygenic vulnerability had a stronger association between cannabis use and psychosis.

  • Highly vulnerable participants who used cannabis were 67% more likely to experience psychosis.
  • Participants with low vulnerability participants that used cannabis were 7% more likely to experience psychosis.

These findings indicate that cannabis use is a stressor that can trigger psychosis in vulnerable individuals.

Importance of the interactionist approach

The interactionist approach has greater explanatory power than theories based only on nature or nurture influences. Combining various influences allows us to better predict individuals' traits.

In practice, by identifying individuals at risk of schizophrenia we can inform them about potential triggers like cannabis use and minimise their future risk of developing the illness. The interactionist approach also stresses the role of trauma and life events in the development of psychiatric disorders, and therefore the importance of addressing that during treatment through therapy in addition to medication.

Interactionist approach, therapy, StudySmarterTherapy can help clients cope with past traumatic experiences and provide them with tools to cope with future stressors, pixabay.com

Interactionist treatments

Tarrier et al. (2004) conducted a randomised control trial and followed up with participants 18 months after the treatment. 309 participants were randomly allocated to one of the 3 treatment conditions:

  1. Treatment 1: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and medication
  2. Treatment 2: counselling and medication
  3. Treatment 3: medication alone.

They found that CBT and counselling combined with medication resulted in a greater reduction of psychotic symptoms 18 months after treatment than medication alone. However, psychological interventions weren't sufficient to affect relapse rates.


Interactionist approach - Key takeaways

  • The interactionist approach explains the development of psychological traits, disorders and behaviour as a product of both biological (genetic, physiological) and environmental influences (upbringing).
  • The Diathesis-Stress Model argues that psychiatric disorders develop when biologically predisposed individuals are exposed to events that trigger the illness.
  • In 1962, Meehl proposed a model, which explained schizophrenia as a result of the combination of having the schizophrenia gene (schizogene) and exposure to chronic stress in childhood (eg. being raised by a controlling and distant mother).
  • Vulnerability for schizophrenia is associated with differences in multiple genes, therefore it is a polygenic disease. Ripke (2014) found differences across 128 gene locations between people with schizophrenia and healthy controls.
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences can affect one's physiology in a way that increases their vulnerability to schizophrenia. Shevlin et al. (2007) reported that people who reported 5 types of Adverse Childhood Experiences were even 53 times more likely to experience psychosis.
  • Cannabis use is one of the stressors that can trigger a psychotic episode. Wainberg et al. (2021) found that high vulnerability participants who used cannabis were 67% more likely to experience psychosis.
  • Accounting for environmental stressors like potential trauma in treatment can lead to better outcomes for clients with schizophrenia. Tarrier et al. (2004) found that CBT and counselling combined with medication resulted in a greater reduction of psychotic symptoms 18 months after treatment than medication alone.

Frequently Asked Questions about Interactionist approach

The symbolic interactionist view is a theory in sociology that posits that illness is a construct created by society. When people are labelled as ill they can be treated differently. Pharmaceutical companies benefit from illness by selling medications.

The interactionist approach explains the development of psychological traits, disorders and behaviour as a product of both biological (genetic, physiological) and environmental influences (upbringing).

Phenylketonuria is an example of how genes and the environment can interact. It is a genetic disorder that leads to intellectual disability. However, if diagnosed and treated early by putting children on an appropriate diet the illness can be prevented.

The interactionist approach has greater explanatory power and important clinical implications. Educating clients on triggers can help prevent experiences of psychosis and including therapy to address potential traumatic experiences can improve clients' outcomes.

The Diathesis-Stress Model argues that psychiatric disorders develop when biologically predisposed individuals are exposed to events that trigger the illness.  

Final Interactionist approach Quiz

Question

What is the interactionist approach in psychology? 

Show answer

Answer

The interactionist approach explains the development of psychological traits, disorders and behaviour as a product of both biological and environmental influences. 

It recognises that multiple factors shape who we become including our biology (genes) and environment (upbringing, culture). 

Show question

Question

Outline an example of gene-environment interaction

Show answer

Answer

Phenylketonuria is a genetic disorder that affects how people process certain proteins. If untreated phenylketonuria leads to intellectual disability. However, by diagnosing children early and putting them on an appropriate diet the illness can be prevented. Despite the genetic vulnerability, an appropriate diet can prevent the expression of the genes that cause this illness. 

Show question

Question

Which one is an example of the interactionist approach in psychology?

Show answer

Answer

The diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia

Show question

Question

Outline the Meehl's model of schizophrenia

Show answer

Answer

In 1962 Meehl proposed a model, which explained schizophrenia as a result of the combination of having the schizophrenia gene (schizogene) and exposure to chronic stress in childhood (eg. being raised by a controlling and distant mother). 

Show question

Question

Is schizophrenia a genetic disease?

Show answer

Answer

Adoption studies suggest that schizophrenia is inherited (eg. Heston, 1966). Ripke 2014 found that schizophrenia is a polygenic disease, meaning it is influenced by variations of many genes. Ripke found 128 genes associated with the disease.  

Show question

Question

Are all people with some genetic vulnerabilities associated with schizophrenia at the same risk of developing the disorder?

Show answer

Answer

Not all people that are vulnerable have all the gene variations associated with schizophrenia. The more genetic variations characteristic of the disorder a person has the more vulnerable they are to the disease, meaning they need fewer environmental stressors for the disorder to develop.

Show question

Question

What factors other than genes can create vulnerability for schizophrenia?

Show answer

Answer

Adverse Childhood Experiences can also make people more vulnerable to stressors because they dysregulate people's physiological stress response. 

Show question

Question

What were the findings of Shevlin et al. 2007, which investigated the relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences and psychosis?

Show answer

Answer

The higher the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences individuals reported the higher was their likelihood of experiencing psychosis.

  • People who reported one Adverse Childhood Experience were 2.5 times more likely to experience psychosis, while people who reported 5 types of Adverse Childhood Experiences were even 53 times more likely to experience psychosis.

Show question

Question

How can cannabis use affect people vulnerable to developing schizophrenia?

Show answer

Answer

Cannabis use can trigger a psychotic episode. 

 Wainberg et al. 2021 found that participants with high polygenic vulnerability had a stronger association between cannabis use and psychosis.

  • Highly vulnerablele participants who used cannabis were 67% more likely to experience psychosis.
  • Participants with low vulnerability participants that used cannabis were 7% more likely to experience psychosis.

Show question

Question

What is an advantage of the interactionist approach?

Show answer

Answer

The interactionist approach has greater explanatory power than theories based only on nature or nurture influences. Combining various influences allows us to better predict individuals' traits. 

Moreover, it has important implications for treatment of psychiatric disorders.

Show question

Question

What are the implications of the diathesis-stress model on clinical practice?

Show answer

Answer

By identifying individuals at risk of schizophrenia we can inform them about potential triggers like cannabis use and minimise their future risk of psychosis. 

The interactionist approach also stresses the role of trauma and therefore the importance of incorporating therapy into treatment in addition to medication.   

Show question

Question

Is interactionist treatment of schizophrenia more effective?

Show answer

Answer

Yes, Tarrier et al. 2004 found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and counselling combined with medication resulted in a greater reduction of psychotic symptoms 18 months after treatment than medication alone. 

Show question

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