Review on How Perspectives Influence Us

Welcome to another blog post from Matthew Mckenzie a carer from South London. I thought to do another lecture review from the course “Perspectives On Abnormal Psychology”. The course is taught by Drew Westen who is currently the professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry.

Drew Weston

Professor Drew Westen

Professor Drew received a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University, then went on to the University of Sussex (England), and also received a Doctor of Philosophy in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan.

I want to go through lecture 1 from this course which looks into How Perspectives Influence Us

Dr Drew Opens the lecture talking about Phrenology and how researchers “if you can call them that” were trying to find out the relationships between skull size, personalities and brain structures.

He gives an example of how a phrenologist would examine a skull or head and feel that this person’s character would behave defensive in their attribute.

Professor Drew Westen does admit that there is some truth where different parts of the brain do control different functions, however he feels the theory of phrenology fell over when researchers tried to link bumps on the head to brain structure, unless they had suffered a serious accident leading to brain trauma.

He feels the problem with theories like Phrenology can lead us astray, so the question is why should we even use theories at all? Especially with theories that can become dangerous. Perhaps we cannot escape theorising? Prof Drew feels that we cannot see things without imposing our own influences or order on them ourselves. It is hard for us to see facts without imposing our own experiences.

Prof Drew asks the audience to examine a gestalt image and asks select members in the audience on what they think the image means to them, the members of the audience all have different answers. The thing is Drew is interested in the way people perceive things, he then goes on to explain what gestalt psychiatrists were trying to do and how they were interested in how people observe things. Dr Drew explains how these psychiatrists noticed that people did not see things as bits of information, but rather as a connected into a whole object.

Hence with the gestalt image, we look at such an image and turn it into something regarding our experiences or influences. Hence the name of this lecture – How Perspectives Influence Us.

Have a look at the gestalt images and think what do they specify to you?

Prof Drew gives another interesting example of how we form things together, e.g. when we are looking into the distance and see something coming towards us. We form each part of that thing as it draws nearer until we realise it is another human being walking towards us.

The conclusion to this part of the lecture is that we are seeing things as an organised whole.

Prof Drew points out Thomas Khun’s idea on how we are usually piecing together information to help us understand specific situations. Thomas felt science progresses not just through facts, but through paradigms.

Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Kuhn

A good example about Kuhn’s idea is in how we can see things as a whole. Such things can be applied to disciplines as Newtonian physics is for physics and classical economics for the field of economics. Prof Drew gives a further example on how Thomas felt a field or discipline progresses. For instance, academics or researchers within the field of economics have to agree on how things are in a particular research or theory, before such theory within a specific economical idea progresses. This seems fine until problems within the theory emerges where more research is carried out, papers are written and ideas are up for debate. Prof Drew explains that at this stage of progression of such ideas then leads to revolutionary science where the old order or theory will be thrown off and the new order or theory begins…until the whole thing happens again.

Prof drew then talks about how are beliefs lead us to try to explain things, it is almost a leap of faith. Drew feels Thomas Khun idea feels that its hard to find truth in all things as science progresses.

Prof Drew then moves on to explain things from a psychology view, the professor is also a consultant psychiatrist and gives an example of what a patient went through.

The example goes like this, the person is having panic attacks regarding an episode they went through.

1. The patient first sees a psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst queries with the patient about his past and questions what things has he experienced as a child and so forth. Eventually the patient explains that there was an incident where he was about to walk up and hit someone. The psychoanalyst would then regard the patient as fearing how the patient controls his emotions rather than something that may trigger his episode.


2. The patient then decides to get a second opinion and books an appointment with a behaviourist. The patient explains he has trouble getting into his car and is not sure why, something is upsetting the patient. This time the psychologist is not interested in the patient’s childhood or emotions. This time the consultant feels that there some trigger that is leading to an emotional response. The psychologist feels the patient is experiencing avoidance behaviour. The patient needs to slowly break the pattern of avoiding getting into his car.

So as with the first psychologist feels the patient must deal with their emotions, this psychologist feels that the patient needs to slowly start getting into the car and experience using the car rather than avoiding it.

3. The patient tries the last psychologist and explains to the biological psychologist the same problem about why he wants to avoid driving his car. This time the psychologist feels that the patient is experiencing an anxiety disorder and feels that anxiety needs to be controlled. The psychologist prescribes medication to the patient to control his anxiety, where the medication will block certain disruptive pathways in the brain.

So what is the message from the patient’s experience of all three psychologists? Dr Drew feels that there is no way to see things without having some perspective. The progression of science does not end with truths ended up in some text book, progression is how we fit things together after noticing patterns are forming or perhaps not connecting at all. It all boils down to our perspective.

The lecturer then moves on to talk about Gordon Allport, who was an American psychologist. Allport was one of the first psychologists to focus on the study of the personality.


Gordon Allport

Prof Drew wonders about not only how we behave, but our internal processes that lead us to behave in a certain way.

Within the course the next series of lectures from Prof Drew looks at psychoanalytic approaches and cognitive behavioural approaches and theories.

Dr Drew then continues to look at another approach in this current lecture, he feels its difficult to see ourselves in parts, e.g. how can we see ourselves as neutrons interacting with each other or how can we describe our actions from dopamine levels?

As the lecture continues Dr Drew mentions a Sad case of the Texan mass killer who one day took to sniping at people from a bell tower. Why is this case sad? Prof Drew states that the killer had notified to doctors that he was having uncontrollable urges, emotions and also terrible headaches. In the end it turned out that he had a brain tumour. The murderer eventually took to a bell tower and ended up shooting people before taking the gun to himself. Prof Drew questions that although what the Texan did was terrible, he queries what was responsible, could we fully blame him for the cause of those deaths or the tumour?

So with the explanation of this difficult and terrible case, Prof Drew leads up to querying whether the environment leads to the development of our personalities or is this purely biological. A good example given is how parents compare their first child to their second on how each baby or young child behaves differently over time.

Prof Drew explores in his lecture on the findings of the biological basis of personality and on the individual differences of personality, where studies look at the behaviour of dizygotic (twins who were born at the same time) and monozygotic (identical) twins. Prof Drew then continues to explain in his lecture about a particular research where they found evidence of in-heritability of 4 traits one being emotionality (e.g. signs of how much emotion the child shows), activity level, sociability and impulsivity (how quickly does the child respond to things). Another interesting research which prof Drew points out are where some cases where twins were raised apart but seem to have similar behaviour even though they hardly ever met. The interesting findings of such cases was when researchers provided Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) tests on subjects, they found that the subjects/twins seemed to behave very similarly. Such research raises questions on if were are born the same, or if people are born with a blank slate, how much does our biology influence our make up or behaviour?

Prof Drew moves on to lecture about pathology or sickness of the mind. He gives us some examples during this lecture, one being about schizophrenia which is a very serve mental health disorder where chronic levels show the person being out of touch with reality, e.g. hallucinations, delusions and being very wary of other people. Prof explains briefly how schizophrenics have peculiar emotions or affect, where their behaviour can lead them to laugh at uncontrollably at odd times or how schizophrenics can have a flat emotion where they do not respond emotionally to certain situations.

Although I have mentioned the genetics of schizophrenia sufferers in my other lecture reviews, Prof Drew continues to discuss how genetics play a part regarding schizophrenia sufferers. Prof Drew Westen goes back onto how monozygotic twins are raised apart and if one of them is schizophrenic, then there is around a 75% chance the other twin will be, interestingly the percentage sky rockets higher if the twins are raised together and one suffers schizophrenia, there will be a 91% the other twin will suffer from schizophrenia which leads on to how the environment plays a part regarding affects on behaviour and disorders.

Dr Drew moves on to how remission rates of schizophrenics can increase if the unwell person is placed in a difficult family environment, so without some doubt there is room for environmental factors although the biological factors play a high part regarding schizophrenia.

Continuing the explanation of schizophrenia Prof Drew queries how can one have a biological behaviour regarding delusions? He mentions a number of competing hypothesis regarding the disorder and this one is on dopamine hypothesis. Basically dopamine is a neural transmitter where information is transmitted from one neuron or nerve cell to the next. The levels of dopamine play a large part on how badly schizophrenia affects a person, if the levels of dopamine is too high then the sufferer will experience schizophrenic symptoms. Studies looked into how amphetamines (stimulant or suppressant that affects the Central Nervous system) can affect someone if high levels were given to a non-sufferer. High levels of amphetamines can cause schizophrenic-like symptoms, even worse if high levels of amphetamines were given to a sufferer, then their symptoms become even worse.

The other theory regards the blocking of dopamines, where different drugs show a decrease in such behaviour when the dopamine receptors were blocked or lessened. Prof Drew warned that he was mainly given a very over simplified description of how dopamine affects sufferers.

Prof Drew then moves on to explain Bipolar disorder where sufferers experience alternating periods of elation and depression. Prof Drew points out that unfortunately the biological factors for Bipolar disorder are clear regarding research on monozygotic twins. Around 80 or 90% of sufferers have a family history where relatives had the disorder, plus a 67% concordance rate for biological twins. Even with some forms of depression, there seems to be evidence of biological factors playing a large part regarding sufferers.

The question Drew Weston raises is how do we treat such illnesses from a biological perspective, well the answer is through medication that can decrease or block levels of chemicals or receptors in the brain that cause such symptoms. Hence we block dopamine levels for schizophrenics and reduce levels of levels affecting serve depression which can have symptoms of those experiencing Psychomotor slowing e.g. they talk slow or walk slow plus the affect of things tasting the same. Like a patient would say everything tastes like cardboard. In fact in some cases the problem would be that there was not enough dopamine levels to help the patient cope with their daily lives.

Overall Prof Drew states there are many advantages to pointing out the biological link to such cases. For instance as the heart can get a disease or there can be disease affecting the lungs, kidneys or other part of the body, then why not the brain? Plus if the brain can get a disease then it can affect behaviour. There are other theories which create a huge problem within the field of psychology and psychiatry regarding those suffering different levels of mental health problems. For instance a patient comes in to see a doctor complaining about depression and within 10 minutes they are on medication. Although at times, this might be the correct method of treatment, but there are horror stories when the method is way out of scope. A good example is misdiagnoses of a far lesser symptom leading to serve side effects where the patient can develop dual diagnoses even if their previous mental health problem was not treated well at all.

The other side causing a problem within the field of psychiatry is the amount of patients suffering from schizophrenia only being treated by medication and having far less therapy, which Prof Drew feels is a distressing problem. He feels many patients are let down because such people not only need medication, but regular talk therapy. There can be an excuse by psychiatrists that the patient cannot have talk therapy because the patient believes they do not have a mental health problem, but then one would question why is the patient on medication in the first place?

Prof Drew concludes the lecture moving on to the sociology of science and the sociology of psychology and talks about why people hold different kinds of perspectives within those fields. A good example is the problem where there can be a clash of ethics regarding how there is a lot of money to be made by prescribing consent medication to patients, Prof Drew warns that in a lot of circumstances the patient is in need of medication, plus there are times the patient requests the medication, but there is a worry within the field of psychiatry that medication alone has become the goal of the patient coping without much need of giving the patient talking therapy.

The lecture called “How Perspectives Influence Us” is very easy going and sometimes light hearted, which is lecture 1 out of 8 lectures from the course “Perspectives On Abnormal Psychology”. The lecturer does talk very fast and each lecture is actually around 45 minutes instead of 30. I hope to cover more of this course in future.