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Lesson 2 | Lesson Plan

The Scientific Understanding of Depression

"Teachers: Nikki neuron reminds you to check the standards tables in the front of the toolkit to see which ones apply for this lesson and your subject area."


Student Objectives

■ Learn about the scientific study of human behavior and mental illness, including disciplines that study mental illness and behavior.

■ Review the use of the experimental method and other scientific approaches to studying human behavior.

■ Learn about the nature-nurture debate in early science and its historical roots in Cartesian dualism.

■ Understand the diathesis-stress model of illness and consider its implications for mental illness compared with the integrative models.

■ Understand that behavioral scientists regard integrative models as the most valid way to understand the many interacting determinants of human behavior and mental illness.

■ Understand bidirectionality, a key concept in integrative models, according to which human behavior and biology interact and influence each other.

■ Explore and discuss examples of how biological, psychological and other variables work together to produce illness and behavior.

Lesson Plan 2 Vocab

Suggestions for Presentation of Material

Questions to engage class in discussion: What causes us to behave the way we do? Is it due to inherited traits or is it because of environment and learning experiences?

How much does each factor contribute? What causes mental illness? What determines who gets sick and who doesn’t? How do scientists study human behavior and mental illness?

Key Points of Discussion

■ How do we study these issues? Scientists from diverse disciplines use a variety of approaches to study human behavior and the origins of mental illness. The scientific c approach is the element common to most of them. Clinical trials and observational studies in a natural setting are two widely used approaches for studying human behavior.

■ Nature (genetic, biological causes of illness) vs. nurture (learned, environmental causes of illness) are two basic frameworks for explaining illness that scientists have debated for many years.

■ Descartes developed the idea of mind-body dualism as a way to accommodate the church’s objection to scientific findings that seemed to oppose the church’s teachings. Descartes’ dualism led to the long debated nature-nurture model, which has generally been abandoned by leading scientists in favor of a more integrative, multiply-determined or interactional model.

■ The diathesis-stress model of illness uses aspects of both nature and nurture to explain how illness develops.

■ The diathesis-stress model of illness proposes that illness develops from a combination of 1) a person’s inherited biological vulnerability and 2) stress. This model proposes that mental illness occurs when the combination of stress and innate vulnerabilities are enough to cause a weak link in the chain to break; the resulting disease will be manifested in the area of weakness. Each of us has various vulnerabilities, so stress affects us differently. Some people are more subject to stress than others, but with enough stress, any of us would eventually have problems. Each would, however, differ in how those problems are manifested.

■ Current thinking in mental health research about the causes of human behavior is based on integrative models, which consider multiple causes or influences. One widely accepted model assumes the bidirectionality of biological and psychological influences on human behavior, although many researchers now feel there are actually many interacting causes of, and influences on, behavior and the development of mental illness.