Behavior is an action or reaction to the environment or to internal thoughts and emotions. Behavioral symptoms are persistent or repetitive behaviors that are unusual, disruptive, inappropriate, or cause problems. Aggression, criminal behavior, defiance, drug use, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, inattention, secrecy, and self-harm are examples of behavioral symptoms. Only 30% of children with developmental or behavior disorder are identified prior to starting school, meaning the majority of affected children miss out on the opportunity to participate in early intervention.
In children, behavioral symptoms may be indications of behavioral disorders, such as conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder. Behavioral symptoms can also be associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, or Asperger’s syndrome. Lead poisoning is another potential cause of behavior disorders in children. In adolescents and adults, behavioral symptoms can result from personality disorders or psychiatric illnesses. Traumatic brain injury and medical disorders that affect the brain can also cause behavioral symptoms.
The psychodynamic perspective. The psychodynamic perspective, proposed as an alternative to the medical model, evolved from Freudian psychoanalytic theory, which contends that psychological disorders are the consequence of anxiety produced by unresolved, unconscious conflicts. Treatment focuses on identification and resolution of the conflicts.
The behavioral perspective. Those espousing a behavioral perspective contend that abnormal behavior results from faulty or ineffective learning and conditioning. Treatments are designed to reshape disordered behavior and, using traditional learning procedures, to teach new, more appropriate, and more adaptive responses. For example, a behavioral analysis of a case of child abuse might suggest that a father abuses his children because he learned the abusive behavior from his father and must now learn more appropriate parenting tactics.
The cognitive perspective. According to the cognitive perspective, people engage in abnormal behavior because of particular thoughts and behaviors that are often based upon their false assumptions. Treatments are oriented toward helping the maladjusted individual develop new thought processes and new values. Therapy is a process of unlearning maladaptive habits and replacing them with more useful ones.
The social‐cultural perspective. From the social‐cultural perspective, abnormal behavior is learned within a social context ranging from the family, to the community, to the culture. Cultural variables, acquired through learning and cognitive processes, are believed to be important in producing abnormal behavior. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia, for example, are psychological disorders found mostly in Western cultures, which value the thin female body.
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