Biological Explanations Of Atypical Psychological Behaviours: A Critical Discussion Using Depression As An Example


The aim of this essay is to discuss critically the biological explanations of the abnormal behaviors related to Depression as the psychopathological condition. Depression (major depressive disorder) is a serious as well as very common mental illness, which affects a negatively a person’s feeling, thinking as well as their daily activities. The reason behind choosing Depression as the psychopathological condition is that is among the most common psychological disorders and is caused by a combination of biological, environmental, genetic as well as psychological factors (Gilbert 2016). Moreover, this psychological condition can occur in any age but mainly found once an individual step into their adulthood. The major risk factors, which are included in depression, can be a history of depression in the family, major trauma, stress or changes in life or physical illnesses and medication (Valkanova and Ebmeier 2013).

Thus, this essay will discuss about the characteristics of the chosen psychopathological condition, which will follow its relation with the various models of the atypical behavior. Here the focus will be more on the biological perspectives. Moreover, the problems that are inherited while classifying and diagnosis of this psychological behavior will be discussed. Lastly, a small summary will be provided with all the important points under the conclusion part.

Depression is always associated with unhappiness and thus, the main characteristics of depression can be overwhelming feeling, having difficulty in experiencing joy even in funny situations, problem in falling asleep, worry, isolating self from people, getting inactive, frequent crying fits, inappropriate eating habits, low self-esteem and being guilty. As per DSM-5 there are a list of signs an d symptoms that is listed under major depressive disorder and any individual having five or more of those symptoms persisting during the same 2-weeks period with one of the symptoms being either depressed mood or loss of pleasure or interest can be said to be suffering from depression. The symptoms that are listed in DSM-5 mainly cause impairment in social, professional and other significant areas of one’s life (American Psychiatric Association 2013). Therefore, the common symptoms as per DSM-5 which are found in depressed people are that most of the day they are observed with depressed mood, marked decreased interest in any activity throughout the day, weight loss without dieting or weight gain, hypersomnia or Insomnia, psychomotor agitation, fatigue, worthlessness feeling, unable to concentrate and repeated thought of death. Thus, if anyone is found having less than five symptoms of DSM-5 category then that person will not be tagged as falling under depression (Koukopoulos and Sani 2014).  

Behavioral Approach

As per the behavioral approach, every behavior is the outcome of the environment in which one stays not the biology. Therefore, according to the behaviorists every action is related to one’s life experience. Moreover, they stated that atypical behavior is actually learned response, which has been conditioned in an individual. Therefore, behavioral model states further opine that if this behavior is learned then it also can be unlearned. Every network of catastrophic life event along with catastrophic interpretations can totally condition an individual’s life forever (Martell, Dimidjian and Herman-Dunn 2013). There are few strengths as well as weaknesses, which can be stated as below-


  1. Behavioral models has helped developed various successful behavioral therapies
  2. Through this approach it has been observed that once the symptoms of problem are decreased, the patient will no longer found complaining about their problems


  1. As per this approach the behaviorists only treats the symptoms which are observable and does not pay attention to its underlying causes
  2. This is also known to be a reductionist approach as it reduces complicated human behaviors to basic level behavioral responses as well as simple environmental stimuli

Sigmund Freud has introduced psychodynamic approach. The main theory related to this approach is that the main root of any mental disorder is psychological which is related to the unconscious mind and are the outcome of failed defense mechanism. While treating psychopathological conditions like depression it the psychodynamic therapy is said to be an important therapy (Barth et al. 2016). This approach mainly helps depressive patients to explore the whole range of their emotions, involving those feelings, which they themselves might not be aware of. This approach further states that mental illnesses, which are reflected in adulthood, are mainly the unresolved conflicts or repressed desires, which is originating from early childhood. This approach also has certain strengths and weaknesses, which are stated as below-


  1. This model holds an optimistic viewpoint that every mental illnesses can be treated
  2. It has been found that maximum of the people are capable of recollecting their childhood traumas or abuse


  1. The major weakness here is that the older methods of this approach mainly neglects the impact of recent conflicts over the childhood conflicts
  2. It further underrates the role of a situation or context and emphasizes more on inner conflicts

The cognitive approach has their basic assumption, which says that mental events produce behavior because human beings analyses their surroundings before responding to it and thus, atypical behaviors comes as an outcome of the cognitive evaluations. This approach has been established because then early behaviorists therapy has failed to take up the thoughts as well as feelings seriously. Cognitive approach thus, addresses mental events like feelings and thinking for analyzing the atypical behaviors. According to cognitive approach depression is the outcome of maladaptive, faulty as well as irrational cognitions, which take the form of disturbed thoughts and judgments. Moreover, depressive cognitions can be socially learned or can be an outcome of lack of experiences that can guide in the evolution of adaptive coping skills. Therefore, as per this approach the depressed people are found to have different thinking that those who are not depressed and thus, it is the thought process which makes them more depressed (Segal, Williams and Teasdale 2012). 

The biological approach mainly discusses the biological and medical viewpoint of the atypical behavior. As per this, brain and its chemicals regulate the human mood and behavior. Therefore, the focus of this approach is on the biological bodily processes like the genetic inheritance. The main assumption of this approach is that psychological illnesses duplicate physical illnesses and thus, can be diagnosed as well as treated in a similar way. The biological model has been observed to favor the nature’s side in the traditional nature vs. nurture debate (Baune et al. 2012). However, as per this approach there is something in the human biology or genetic makeup, which can cause dysfunctioning behavior like depression. Apart from genetics, this approach has also highlighted that biochemical imbalance; malformation in the structuring of the brain can also contribute in the way in which people can suffer from depression (Saveanu and Nemeroff 2012). Moreover, the research also says that depression can also be caused if any of the family members is diagnosed with this psychopathological condition. Thus, those individual who are having a first-degree relative suffering from depression are at more risk to come under this disorder. Family studies as well as Twin studies have suggested that depression can run through families (Ibrahim et al. 2013). There are studies by Natsuaki et al. (2014) which shows that biological relatives of those who are adopted have been hospitalized for suffering from severe depression. Moreover, this study also found that there is high incidence of severe depression in those relatives in the experimental group in comparison to the non-depressed control group.  

Psychodynamic Approach

The biological approach further states that there is an important genetic association between the Unipolar depression and suicide because as per research it has been found that among the biological relatives of the individuals with mood disorders are 15 times more suicidal than the adoptive parents. Apart from genetics, there is also a major role of biochemical in the brain, which is also associated with depression as biological approach says. It states that low levels of norepinephrine guides an individual to depression as well as mania whereas, serotonin theory also suggests that low levels produces depression as well. Andrews et al. (2015) has stated that impaired transmission of serotonin is found in individuals suffering from depression thus, it gives a support for the biological explanation. This biological explanation for depression also gives the Monoamine hypothesis, which states that monoamines (serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine) are collective neurotransmitters, which are responsible for regulating moods. Therefore, when the serotonin level is low as stated above briefly, the noradrenaline also drops and thus, this, drop links with lack of pleasure in daily life activities. Thus, by increasing people’s serotonin level in the brain, which can be done by taking medicines, one can combat depression. Hormone imbalances also have a major role to play in depression. It has been seen that depressed people have an increased level of cortisol, which is that hormone which regulates which is responsible for body’s responses towards stress, anger as well as fear. In the depressed person, it has been found that cortisol levels increases in the morning and remains high throughout day and night thus, creating a hormonal imbalance (Dettenborn et al. 2012).

 However, no classification scheme is perfect and no two individual with similar diagnosis will behave in the same way. To attain classification successfully the various disorders are diagnosed as per the symptoms and which are based on information. As per DSM-4, which demonstrates individual’s psychopathological conditions mainly utilizing five criteria, known as axes and then they are evaluated based on those axes. Moreover, different models are also used to get hold of the disorders like through biological model an underlying biochemical or physiological dysfunction, which is the cause of any atypical behavior, can be treated in a similar way as any other physical illness. However, the classification and diagnosis must be objective and produce similar results no matter what diagnosis is highlighted by the psychologist, but this is not always the case and thus, issues arises because many a times the causes are unknown for which there is a lack of classification. Moreover, another major problem is that atypical behavior is still today a stigma in most cultures thus, defining and diagnosing becomes very complex (Mwangi et al. 2012).

Cognitive Approach


Thus, to conclude the essay it can be said the main reason behind choosing Depression as a psychopathological condition as it is the most common mental illness, which can be caused by genetic, environmental, behavioral and psychological factors. However, as per DSM-5 classification of the signs and symptoms of depression the characteristics are that most of the day they are observed with depressed mood, marked decreased interest in any activity throughout the day, weight loss without dieting or weight gain, hypersomnia or Insomnia, psychomotor agitation, fatigue, worthlessness feeling, unable to concentrate and repeated thought of death. As per the biological approach of depression, not only genetics but chemical imbalance as well as hormones also play major roles in depression.


American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

Andrews, P.W., Bharwani, A., Lee, K.R., Fox, M. and Thomson Jr, J.A., 2015. Is serotonin an upper or a downer? The evolution of the serotonergic system and its role in depression and the antidepressant response. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 51, pp.164-188.

Barth, J., Munder, T., Gerger, H., Nüesch, E., Trelle, S., Znoj, H., Jüni, P. and Cuijpers, P., 2016. Comparative efficacy of seven psychotherapeutic interventions for patients with depression: a network meta-analysis. Focus, 14(2), pp.229-243.

Baune, B.T., Stuart, M., Gilmour, A., Wersching, H., Heindel, W., Arolt, V. and Berger, K., 2012. The relationship between subtypes of depression and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review of biological models. Translational psychiatry, 2(3), p.e92.

Dettenborn, L., Muhtz, C., Skoluda, N., Stalder, T., Steudte, S., Hinkelmann, K., Kirschbaum, C. and Otte, C., 2012. Introducing a novel method to assess cumulative steroid concentrations: increased hair cortisol concentrations over 6 months in medicated patients with depression. Stress, 15(3), pp.348-353.

Gilbert, P., 2016. Depression: The evolution of powerlessness. Routledge.

Ibrahim, A.K., Kelly, S.J., Adams, C.E. and Glazebrook, C., 2013. A systematic review of studies of depression prevalence in university students. Journal of psychiatric research, 47(3), pp.391-400.

Koukopoulos, A. and Sani, G., 2014. DSM?5 criteria for depression with mixed features: a farewell to mixed depression. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 129(1), pp.4-16.

Martell, C.R., Dimidjian, S. and Herman-Dunn, R., 2013. Behavioral activation for depression: A clinician’s guide. Guilford Press.

Mwangi, B., Ebmeier, K.P., Matthews, K. and Douglas Steele, J., 2012. Multi-centre diagnostic classification of individual structural neuroimaging scans from patients with major depressive disorder. Brain, 135(5), pp.1508-1521.

Natsuaki, M.N., Shaw, D.S., Neiderhiser, J.M., Ganiban, J.M., Harold, G.T., Reiss, D. and Leve, L.D., 2014. Raised by depressed parents: is it an environmental risk?. Clinical child and family psychology review, 17(4), pp.357-367.

Saveanu, R.V. and Nemeroff, C.B., 2012. Etiology of depression: genetic and environmental factors. Psychiatric Clinics, 35(1), pp.51-71.

Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G. and Teasdale, J.D., 2012. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. Guilford Press.

Valkanova, V. and Ebmeier, K.P., 2013. Vascular risk factors and depression in later life: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Biological psychiatry, 73(5), pp.406-413.

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