Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness

Major Mental Illnesses

So what’s the verdict when it comes to mental health: nature or nurture?

The mental health field has gone through wide pendulum swings with regard to the nature/nurture debate. In middle of the twentieth century, there was an excessive emphasis on environmental causes. Phrases such as the “schizophrenigenic mother” and the “refrigerator mother” put unnecessary blame on mothers for disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. Starting in the 1980s, the pendulum swung back toward a biological and genetic approach, in some cases unnecessarily diminishing the impact of the environment. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, an integrative approach to the nature/nurture debate has developed. Now it is widely understood that all psychological processes involve the interaction between genetics and environment. Our genetics affect our environment by influencing how we interact with the environment, which in turn shapes how the world responds to us. Moreover, research has shown that the reverse is also true; the environment affects our genes. More specifically, different environmental conditions (for example degree of maternal touch) can affect whether specific genes are turned on or off.


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