aqa  A2 Option: Psychological explanations for schizophrenia: family dysfunction and cognitive explanations, including dysfunctional thought processing.

edexcel  One non-biological theory/explanation.

CIE  A2 Option: Cognitive explanation for schizophrenia (e.g. Frith, 1992).


Social Explanations

Statistics show that the majority of schizophrenics in the UK come from lower classes, or from groups such as immigrants. Research suggests that social class is either a cause of schizophrenia, or at least somehow involved in its development, according to a second possible, explanation: the environmental breeder hypothesis. This comes from the social approach. In one meta-analysis of 17 studies, Eaton et al. (1988) showed that statistically there are more lower class schizophrenics and the disorder is more common proportionately in lower classes.

Sufferers of a lower class also experience a different course of the illness and are treated differently. It was found that they are more likely to be taken by the police or social services for treatment than those of upper classes, and also more likely to become mandatorily committed or become long-term sufferers. Thus in the 1960s it was thought that being in a lower class was a causal factor of schizophrenia. This was known as the social causation hypothesis, or environmental breeder hypothesis. The ideas of social drift and social adversity offer two social explanations for schizophrenia, which are both outlined below.

Social drift
It has been suggested that sufferers of schizophrenia actually become lower class because of the difficulties that arise from having the disorder. One study took a sample of schizophrenic men and their fathers, and compared their social classes. It was found that the sufferers were all in the lower classes, whereas their fathers typically were not, providing evidence for social selection theory, which suggests just that. The theory argues social class isn’t the causal factor but that schizophrenics drift downwards in terms of social class (this is known as social drift). Whilst social selection theory is now widely accepted by most, recently studies have suggested that there are actually environmental and social factors which can cause schizophrenia (or at least are involved in its development). Whilst social disadvantage may not be the main cause of such a disorder, it certainly appears to be a contributing factor to the development of schizophrenia.

Social adversity
Schizophrenia is certainly more common in urban communities (large towns and cities) rather than rural areas, so it is perhaps something about city life which leads to schizophrenia. In fact, schizophrenia tends to be almost exclusively found in cities, but there are many lower class people in rural places – so the social drift hypothesis doesn’t seem to fit here. Harrison et al. (2001) suggests being brought up in declining inner-city areas could lead to schizophrenia, as this is where the bulk of sufferers lie.

Hjem et al. (2004) showed that social adversity (adverse being the opposite of favourable) in childhood has a correlation link with schizophrenia. The areas identified by Harrison et al. as where clusters of schizophrenics live support Hjem’s ideas, as the inner-city areas tend to be where the population groups of the lowest socioeconomic class are. It is therefore suggested that city life must have something which leads to development of schizophrenia. Thesociogenic hypothesis (contrasting the social selection theory) suggests that it is stress factors which contribute to the disorder developing. These include the stress from poor education, unemployment, low rewards, low income and few opportunities, which have been suggested can lead to the disorder.

Evaluation of the environmental breeder hypothesis

  • The ideas support the facts that there are more schizophrenics in inner-city areas and in lower classes, and both the social drift and social adversity ideas explain a possible link between the disorder and class
  • Although not everyone who lives in environmental conditions suggested by these explanations develops schizophrenia, it is still highly likely that there are these environmental triggers (rather than strict causes), it is possible that there is a biological explanation also, which requires some environmental activation for the disorder to develop
  • Since those in a lower socioeconomic group, with no jobs and living alone are more likely to be diagnosed, it suggests maybe a diagnosis problem, not an environmental problem
  • It is hard to separate those factors which might be causing schizophrenia with those that are being caused by schizophrenia, it may be that lower social class, economic status and the lack of a job are all consequences of the disorder, not the other way around, as the social drift hypothesis suggests


Extension Resources

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