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Interactionist approach

Human behaviour is complex. Predicting human behaviour only on the base of one's genes is very difficult without knowing anything else about the person. We're dealing with over 20,000 genes and countless life experiences, so it would be wrong to assume life experiences do not affect behaviour, and that genes are solely responsible for behavioural traits.The interactionist approach can be…

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Interactionist approach

Interactionist approach

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Human behaviour is complex. Predicting human behaviour only on the base of one's genes is very difficult without knowing anything else about the person. We're dealing with over 20,000 genes and countless life experiences, so it would be wrong to assume life experiences do not affect behaviour, and that genes are solely responsible for behavioural traits.

The interactionist approach can be used to create complex models of behaviour by recognising that we need to look at factors beyond just one of the two extreme influences in the nature-nurture debate.

  • First, we'll introduce the interactionist approach to psychology in the context of the nature-nurture debate.
  • Next, we'll outline the interactionist approach definition.
  • We'll follow by providing an interactionist approach example in psychological research.
  • Then, we'll explore the interactionist approach in the psychology schizophrenia model.

  • Finally, we'll dive into the interactionist approach psychology evaluation.

Interactionist approach, whiteboard with mathematical formulas, VaiaFig. 1 - Predicting human behaviour based on one level of explanation (e.g. only based on one's biology) can be compared to predicting the area of a rectangle, knowing the length of only one of its sides.

Interactionist Approach Psychology: The Nature-Nurture Debate

The nature-nurture debate questions whether our traits are biologically determined (nature) or whether they are caused by environmental influences (nurture).

  • The nature side of the debate argues that traits, behaviours, and disorders are caused by biological predispositions related to our genes, brain structure or physiology.

  • While the nurture side highlights the role of the environment and upbringing 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 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 to explain and predict behaviour, we need to account for the interaction between both the influence of nature and nurture.

The interactionist view highlights that we need to look at many levels of explanation for behaviour (e.g. biological, cognitive, social and cultural levels).

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.

Interactionist Approach Example In Psychology

The importance of the interactionist approach is highlighted by studies that show that these influences interact with each other. They show us that nature can influence our nurture and vice versa.

Nature can Affect Nurture

Scarr and McCartney (1983) identified 3 types of genome-environment interactions:

  • Passive – we are provided the environment by our biological parents.
  • Reactive – our temperament can influence how others react to us, which shapes our experiences.
  • Active – our temperament and biological tendencies influence what kind of environments we seek out.

The active type of genome–environment interactions is also called niche picking.

Nurture can Affect Nature

Nurture also mediates the relationship between genes and behaviour. This was demonstrated by the study of Turkheimer et al. (2003). The study investigated the heritability of IQ in a sample of twins and found that the heritability of intelligence depended on children's socioeconomic status.

  • In children raised near or below poverty levels the heritability of IQ was close to zero (0.01), while in children raised in wealthy families the heritability of IQ was very high (0.72).

In summary, the heritability coefficients in Turkheimer et al. (2003) suggest that the relative contribution of genes to IQ depends on the socioeconomic status of the population.

Our experiences and environment also interact through our biology through neuroplasticity.

Interactionist Approach In Psychology: Schizophrenia

The interactionist approach can also be used to understand the development of schizophrenia. In 1962, Paul Meehl proposed a model which explained schizophrenia as a result 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 a pre-existing genetic vulnerability. This model has later been developed, giving rise to the diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia.

Currently, we know that there is no one "schizogene", instead schizophrenia is associated with mutations in multiple different genes.

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

Diathesis refers to having a vulnerability (which can be genetic or environmental) and stress typically indicates an environmental stressor.

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

The Role of Vulnerability in the Diathesis-stress Model

Family studies have demonstrated that genetic vulnerability is associated with a risk of developing 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.

Studies that investigated the genes linked to this disorder also indicated that schizophrenia is influenced by variations in multiple different genes.

Ripke (2014) studied differences in genotypes of nearly 37,000 people with schizophrenia and 113,000 healthy controls. The study found differences across 128 gene locations.

How do the genes interact with stressors? The more genetic variations associated with the disorder a person has, the more vulnerable they are to the disease, meaning they need fewer environmental stressors for the disorder to develop.

Vulnerability can also be environmental, like growing up in a stressful environment.

For example, the family dysfunction explanation of schizophrenia proposed that dysfunctional styles of communication within a family can increase children's risk of developing schizophrenia.

One type of family dysfunction associated with schizophrenia was the double bind theory; this occurs when parents give children incoherent verbal and non-verbal messages that often contradict each other, leaving them with an incoherent image of reality.

Another one is high expressed emotion which occurs when the family members of a schizophrenic person talk about them critically, express hostility towards them and can be overly emotionally involved.

Interactionist approach, a couple having an argument, VaiaFig. 2 - Family dysfunction can increase individuals' vulnerability to developing schizophrenia.

The Role of Stressors in the Diathesis-stress Model

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.

Wainberg et al. (2021) investigated the association between polygenic vulnerability for schizophrenia, cannabis use and experiences of psychosis in a large UK-based sample of 109,308 participants. Researchers 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 support the diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia.

Interactionist Approach Psychology Evaluation

One advantage of the interactionist approach is that it promotes holistic explanations of human behaviour and psychological outcomes. Models that follow the interactionist approach can account for different levels of explanation of a phenomenon. They consider biological influences like one's genetic vulnerability, social influences like one's socioeconomic status and the influence of nurture (e.g. upbringing and relationships with family members).

The diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia is an example of a holistic model of psychopathology.

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.

If we attempt to predict one's risk of schizophrenia only based on their genes, we might not be as accurate as we would if we accounted for other factors like drug use, traumatic experiences or relationships as well.

This approach also has important implications for psychological treatments and interventions, for example, 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, woman talking to a counselor, VaiaFig. 3 - The interactionist approach promotes holistic treatments to address mental health problems.


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 importance of the interactionist approach is highlighted by studies that show that these influences interact with each other.
  • Scarr and McCartney (1983) described the three types of genome-environment interactions, while Turkheimer et al. (2003) demonstrated how nurture can mediate the influence of genes on behaviour.
  • The Diathesis-Stress Model is an example of an interactionist approach. It proposes that psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, develop due to a combination of one's vulnerability (which can be biological) and events that trigger the illness.
  • The strengths of the interactionist approach are that it is holistic, has high explanatory power and has important implications for policies and clinical practice.

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

Interactionist approach Quiz - Teste dein Wissen

Question

What is the interactionist approach in psychology? 

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Answer

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

Show question

Question

Can nature and nurture influence each other?

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Answer

Nature can influence nurture but nurture can't influence nature.

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Question

Which of these are examples of the interactionist approach in psychology?

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Answer

The diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia.

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Question

Outline the Meehl's model of schizophrenia

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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?

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Answer

Yes. Adoption studies suggest that schizophrenia is heritable (eg. Heston, 1966). Ripke 2014 found that schizophrenia is a polygenic disease, meaning it is influenced by variations of many genes. 

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Question

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

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Answer

No, 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 to schizophrenia?

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Answer

Environmental factors, for example family dysfunction.

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Question

What are the three ways in which nature influences nurture, according to Scarr and McCartney (1983)?

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Answer

  • Passive – we are provided the environment by our biological parents.
  • Reactive – our temperament can influence how others react to us, which shapes our experiences.
  • Active – our temperament and biological tendencies will influence what kind of environments we seek out.

Show question

Question

How can cannabis use affect people vulnerable to developing schizophrenia?

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Answer

Cannabis use can trigger a psychotic episode, specially in people with high vulnerability.

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Question

What are the strengths of the interactionist approach?

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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?

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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

Niche peaking is an example of ____ .

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Answer

Nature influencing nurture.

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Question

What is the heritability of IQ, according to Turkheimer et al. (2003)?

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Answer

0.01.

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Question

Which statement is true?

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Answer

The interactionist approach is holistic.

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Question

Turkheimer et al. (2003) study, which showed that socioeconomic status can mediate the heritability of IQ is an example of _____ .

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Answer

Nurture influencing nature.

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Question

Why is the interactionist approach considered holistic?

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Answer

Because it accounts for different levels of explanation (biological, social, cognitive etc.) of a behaviour.

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Question

What are the two types of family dysfunction associated with schizophrenia?

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Answer

Double bind.

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Question

How does high genetic vulnerability interact with environmental stressors in relation to schizophrenia risk?

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Answer

High genetic vulnerability means that the individual needs fewer environmental stressors for the disorder to develop. 

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Question

In the diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia, vulnerability always refers to genetic factors.

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Answer

False.

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Question

What types of treatments would be in line with the interactionist perspective? 

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Answer

Both therapy and medication.

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