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Madness, Maleness and Method: A bottom up construction to Truth.

Madness, Maleness and Method: A bottom up construction to Truth.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Darach Murphy. Originally submitted for Single Honours Psychology at Trinity College, University of Dublin, with lecturer Lorraine Swords in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Darach Murphy. Originally submitted for Single Honours Psychology at Trinity College, University of Dublin, with lecturer Lorraine Swords in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The ultimate goal of psychological science as with any other branch of science is to unveil
‘truth’. By the application of appropriate research methods observations can be recorded
and verified. Furthermore scientific studies can build on the findings of previous and relatedresearch thus accumulating more and more evidence with the expectation of continuousadvancement towards absolute truth.This description of the research process, though accurate may be incomplete. Research isconducted by normal human beings within a social system and not by isolated, asocialindividuals. This reality suggests that individual researchers as well as the teams andcommunities that they operate from are vulnerable to a range of influences that may haveindirect, though profound consequences for the truth seeking enterprise. Experimentalsocial research (Taijfel, Billig, Bundy, & Flament, 1971; Shefif, 1936) has illuminated theinfluence that group membership can leverage on individual group members, wherebypersons can adjust their thoughts, feelings and actions to conform to group norms. Therobust nature of these findings (Hogg & Vaughan, 2005) requires that researchers retain acritical or sceptical approach to claimed research findings even when these appear inreputable scientific journals (Shaughnessy, Zechmeister, & Zechmeister, 2009).Conforming to group norms can inflict another, more subtle risk to the research process:this risk lies in the unquestioning acceptance of fundamental group assumptions. Thesefundamental assumptions, also called paradigms, involve bedrock issues containingontological and epistemological conceptualisations of the world and the research process.Thus basic understandings of the reality of phenomena as well as what and how we canknow about them need to be agreed in order for the group to focus their energies on
application (Kuhn, 1970). Kuhn’s influential critique of the manner in which science is
conducted has claimed that scientific paradigms are as vulnerable to social and historicalbias as any other human endeavour and cannot be considered to be fully rational or logicalenterprises. Furthermore Kuhn believed that the often unconscious acceptance of theunderlying assumptions inherent in a scientific tradition can result in those assumptionsbeing protected from scrutiny. Thus the acceptance of a particular worldview throws upparticular research questions or problems, posed by that worldview. The results revealedare then interpreted in relation to the worldview and inconsistencies or contradictions aredeemed to be the result of flaws within the research process methodology, rather than anindictment of the integrity of the worldview itself (Kuhn, 1970).Concurring with Kuhn, Sroufe (1977) also claims that worldview assumptions underlyingscience can operate below the surface, thus remaining hidden. Within the mental healtharena the current dominant worldview or paradigm is said to be the Medical Model (Lazare,1973). Inherent in this model is the view that problematic psychological problems can be
grouped together into discreet mental illnesses. Thus problems such as distraction,inattention, artificial mood altering behaviours, and low-mood give rise to illnesses such asADHD, Substance Dependence and Depression (Figure 1).(
Kuhn likened the components and processes inherent in the paradigm model to aconstruction process, whereby an agreed blueprint determines the development of theresearch process (Leahy, 2004). Thus the following construction graphics are used asillustration
Figure 1:
The assumptions supporting a medical conceptualisation of mental health problems lie inthe belief that such problems are symptomatic of an underlying pathology (Sroufe, 1977;Rutter, 1996). This pathology is believed to lie in the neurophysiology of the individual andmay involve either genetic malfunction or organic disease. Environmental considerations arealso considered relevant but only as additions or subtractions to the core biological cause(Sroufe, 1977).
Figure 2
Recent advances in neurological and genetic technology, including the invention of FMRItechnology and the mapping of the human Genome, are assumed to lead to the unearthingof the underlying correlates and causes of mental health illnesses. Thus depression hasbeen associated with heightened activity in the emotion centre of the brain (amygdale) andreduced activity in the areas of the brain associated with planning and thinking (prefrontalcortex, hippocampus) (Thase, M.E., 2002). The role of neurotransmitters in the constructionof these brain differences and their correlation with mental health illnesses has beensubject to an enormous amount of scientific investigation. However, initial modelshypothesising differential amounts of neurotransmitters as possible causes in thedevelopment of mental problems have not been successful (Ressler & Nemeroff, 1999).Findings from neurobiological research, though important for a comprehensiveunderstanding of mental health problems are problematic. By their very nature they arecorrelational, thus patterns in neuronal activity can not be reliably said to cause mentalhealth problems, as the direction of the cause and effect relationship can not be determinedby correlation alone.The mapping of the human genome has provided us with a level of analysis whose fixednature provides us with the opportunity to track the biology of the individual throughoutthe life cycle. Thus a genetic influence on all major psychiatric conditions has beenconfirmed by twin and adoption studies revealing heritability estimates that are substantial(ADHD 77%, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and Autism 80% -90%) (McGuffin, Owen, & Gottesman,2006). Genetic markers for these and other conditions have also been identified. The DISC 1gene is one of the most robust genetic correlates of any psychiatric illness (Abbot, 2008).This gene, which stands for
disrupted-in- schizophrenia
codes for a protein involved in thenervous system and has been found to be prevalent in cohorts of schizophrenics. For ADHDthe dopamine transporter gene, DAT1 and receptor gene DRD4 have been associated withthe condition (Cook et al 1995; Gill, 1997; Daly, 1999). However, molecular and associationgenetic studies are plagued by inconsistency. Thus whilst DAT 1 and DRD 4 have beenobserved in some studies, they have failed to be observed in others (Swanson 1998;Holmes, 2000; Palmer, 1999). Even the gene given a name that includes the termschizophrenia has failed to turn up on subsequent research on people with the condition(Abbott, 2008).Genetic research has identified markers (polymorphisms or SNPs) which although occurringin some sufferers of mental ill-health have also been found in those free of such problems(Burmeister, McInnis, & Zollner, 2008). Thus speculation has mounted suggesting illnesses

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