Affective Mood Disorders Biologically Determined

Seligman (1974, in Cardwell et al, 2000) expanded this notion that depression can be learnt when he investigated the effects of stressful, inescapable situations on animals. He discovered that a previous experience of an inescapable situation led the animal to believe all further situations were also inescapable and that they did not attempt to escape, thus adopting “A Learned Helplessness. ” Maier and Seligman (1967) tested this on human patients and found they were able to generalise.

Seligman suggested that personal experiences such as bereavement and rejection often leads the patient to ‘give up’ as they have learnt they are helpless in dealing with situations that life throws at them, eventually leading to depression. However, this does not apply to every person who suffers a bad experience so why do some suffer depression due to leaned helplessness and not others?

This question prompted an alteration of Seligman’s theory in the form of the hopelessness theory (Abramson et al.1978, in Cardwell et al, 2000) and is based upon different attributional styles. It is believed that how a person perceives events in their life may give them a predisposition for depression, a person who attributes failure internally, globally and stably has a higher risk of depression than someone who attributes failures externally. Nolen-Hoeksema et al. (1992) carried out a 5year longitudinal study on children aged 5years old that were suffering with depression and found no connection to attribution style.

However as the child grew older a connection was established, suggesting that attributional styles develop in later life. Although attribution style accounts for reasons why some people can cope with bereavement without depression and why others cannot cause and effect cannot be established (Coyne and Gotlib, 1983, in Gleitman et al, 1999. ) Beck (1967, in Gleitman et al, 1999) proposed a cognitive theory of depression that centred on errors in cognition that interfered with normal cognition processes.

These were intense feelings of hopelessness, despair and irrational negative thoughts; forming a ‘Cognitive Triad’, which in turn causes a ‘negative cognitive schema. ‘ These negative feelings cause major depression and usually emerged from bad experiences in earlier life: death, rejection, over critical parents or school life. The irrational thoughts and schemas eventually become self-fulfilling and negative outcomes begin to occur.

These negative schemas can be counter-acted with cognitive therapy that attempts to replace negative thoughts with positive ones so that it is these positive thoughts that become self-fulfilling. As with Seligaman’s Learned Helplessness theory not everyone who has negative thoughts and negative experiences suffers from mood disorders. Beck sated that strategies to cope with these negative thoughts can be developed and that the environment can either strengthen or weaken them. The Diathesis Stress model takes into account both biological and psychological factors.

This approach is able to give a much more accurate interpretation of the causes of mood disorders as it uses all available information such as serotnin levels, negative thoughts, family history and genetics. The diathesis stress model uses these factors as a predisposition, life events then act as a trigger, stimulating the disorder, there fore if biological and psychological factors give you a high predisposition it is very likely that you will suffer from one type of mood disorder.

This culmination of factors explains to a certain extent why in some cases patients suffer from major depression or bipolar disorder and others do not. By looking at a culmination of factors it can be explained to a certain extent anomalies in research evidence, such as why the concordance rates for MZ and DZ twins are not 100 per cent and 50 per cent and why some anti-depressants work well for certain patients while having adverse effects on others.

It is my opinion that the diathesis stress model gives the best causes for depression, as it cannot be said from looking at the relevant research studies that affective mood disorders are caused by one single factor such as the biological explanation.


Cardwell, M. , Clark, L. , and Meldrum, C. (2000) Psychology for A – Level. (pp. 640-647) London: Harper Collins. Eysenck, M. W. , and Keane, M. T. (2000) Cognitive Psychology: A Student’s handbook. 4th Edition. (pp. 497-509) Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

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