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Psychological Perspectives and Etiology of Disorders

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Psychological Perspectives and Etiology of Disorders

All of us have some kind of weird quirk. Maybe you have to have all the condiments in the fridge on a specific shelf, or all the books in your locker must be organized by color. We all have pretty good explanations for our quirky behavior. However, if you had to go back to your fridge 20 times a day to make sure nothing is out of place, or else you start to feel anxious, this behavior may be considered abnormal. The origin or causes of abnormal behavior are slightly more difficult to identify.

  • What are the types of etiology of disorders?
  • What is the biological perspective of abnormal behaviors and etiology disorders?
  • What is the treatment for disorders from the biological perspective?
  • What are the psychological perspectives of abnormal behavior?
  • What is the cognitive perspective on psychological disorders?

Types of Etiology of Disorders

Mental illness is not a new discovery in human history. Civilizations throughout history have sought to understand the causes of abnormal behavior.

Etiology is the cause or origin of a disease or mental disorder.

Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Hebrew civilizations believed supernatural forces were responsible for abnormal behavior. Many times, the treatment for this behavior was to release whatever evil spirit had overtaken that person’s body. In Medieval times, women with abnormal behavior were accused of being witches and were at risk of being hunted and executed. On the other hand, ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates were the first to suggest that mental illness is a disease similar to any other physical disorder and originates from the brain.

There are three types of etiology of disorders. Intrinsic etiology is the result of internal factors such as genetics or cognition. Extrinsic etiology results from external factors such as the environment or social interactions. Other times, the etiology is simply unknown or idiopathic. It is important to note that etiology is not always the same for every person with the same disorder.

One person’s anxiety may have an intrinsic etiology due to genes, while another’s may have an extrinsic etiology due to long-term exposure to stress.

Additionally, mental disorders can often have several etiologies. Symptoms of schizophrenia could develop due to a combination of genetic predispositions and substance use.

Etiology od depression, Study SmarterEtiology of depression, Freepik.com

Biological Perspective of Abnormal Behavior and Etiology Disorders

Some perspectives suggest that abnormal behavior and mental disorders are due to biological factors like genes and brain chemistry or structure. Our genes determine several characteristics – hair color, eye color, and height. They may also make us vulnerable to developing mental disorders. Behavior geneticists who study the potential genetic causes for behavior have sought to determine the heritability of psychological disorders.

Heritability is the proportion of the variability of a trait within a population due to genetics.

For example, according to Fernandez-Pujals et al. (2015), the heritability of major depressive disorder (MDD) in the United States is .37, which means that 37 percent of the variation of this trait is due to genetics. This number suggests that our genes play a noticeable role in developing mental disorders.

The biological perspective also highlights the influence of brain chemistry and brain structure on the development of psychological disorders. Brain chemistry refers to the chemicals that make up the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters send messages throughout the brain that help it function. When these messages are not properly sent, they may be correlated with a psychological disorder.

Decreased activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin is correlated with major depressive disorder.

The biological perspective also examines brain structure as a potential cause of abnormal behavior. Over- or under-activity in the brain may be correlated with psychological disorders. People with panic disorder often show an overactive amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotion.

Treatment of Disorders From the Biological Perspective

Treatment of psychological disorders from the biological perspective usually focuses on changing a person’s brain chemistry or physical functioning to reduce symptoms. A common method used is drug therapy. Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines have been developed to treat not only anxiety but also obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorder (PD). Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were developed to boost serotonin in the brain, reducing symptoms of depression and other psychological disorders. Antipsychotic medications can help treat some of the most severe disorders, including schizophrenia, and mood stabilizers help regulate mood disorders like bipolar disorder.

Psychological Perspectives and Etiology of Disorders, gloved hand holding pill, StudySmarterMedication to treat disorders, Freepik.com

Other types of treatment for psychological disorders from the biological perspective include more extreme interventions. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a procedure that uses electrical currents to stimulate neurogenesis and lower brain activity that may be causing depressive symptoms. Psychosurgery is one of the most invasive treatments in which parts of the brain are cut into to reduce symptoms of psychological disorders. Of course, this is the very last resort and is only considered for people with extreme or debilitating disorders who have been unresponsive to any other treatments.

Psychological Perspectives of Abnormal Behavior

Psychological perspectives of abnormal behavior look at how a person's social environment, learned behavior, and past experiences may contribute to psychological disorders. Freud's psychoanalytic approach sought to uncover a person's unconscious feelings and desires. This was meant to discover what in their past is causing their present affliction. The psychoanalytic approach thought that helping a person understand and reveal past trauma that they are suppressing can lead to healing. This approach is often criticized for being too difficult to study or research scientifically. Other psychological perspectives of abnormal behavior, including learned behavior and social factors, are much easier to scientifically measure and observe.

Learned Behavior

There are two types of conditioning according to the behaviorist perspective. Classical conditioning is a type of learning that creates a conditioned response by pairing an unconditioned stimulus with a neutral one. In one study, Ivan Pavlov, who first discovered classical conditioning, rang a bell (neutral stimulus) every time he brought a dog food (unconditioned stimulus).

Over time, the sound of the bell alone caused the dog to start salivating (conditioned response). The behaviorist perspective suggests that we learn abnormal behavior through conditioned emotional responses. Neuroticism (emotional over-reactivity) may form due to a conditioned emotional response. Phobias and substance use disorders may develop due to this type of classical conditioning.

It was raining the day you experienced something dangerous, and now you have a fear of rain.

Operant conditioning, discovered by B.F. Skinner, is a type of learning that uses reinforcement to strengthen or weaken behavior. Abnormal behaviors may be learned through operant conditioning when it is reinforced. A trapped animal will stop trying to escape when nothing they have tried has worked. The failure is negative reinforcement and eventually weakens the animal's behavior (trying to escape). This phenomenon is called learned helplessness and can also occur in humans. Everything you do to get a job doesn't work, and now you have stopped trying. Learned helplessness commonly underlies several types of depression.

Social/Environmental Factors

In order for a person to develop abnormal behavior or psychological disorder, they had to have experienced a stressor. Stressors can occur within the environment.

The vulnerability-stress model states that we all have predispositions or vulnerabilities to developing a psychological disorder under sufficient stress.

Vulnerabilities or predispositions can be increased by genetic factors, neurotransmitter imbalances, or hormonal factors. Stressors may include various social and environmental factors, such as cultural differences, socioeconomic status, traumatic events, extreme pessimism, or low self-esteem.

Cognitive Perspective on Psychological Disorders

The cognitive perspective on psychological disorders suggests that the etiology of psychological disorders is dysfunctional or maladaptive thoughts. These dysfunctional thoughts are cognitive distortions of reality. Let's take a look at a few examples of cognitive distortions.

All-or-Nothing thinking: You see things only in black and white. Either you succeed or you fail; there is nothing in between. Everything has to be perfect. Otherwise, you will not accept it. This often leads to unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. You get an A- on a test, but that is not good enough because only A+ work is acceptable.

Psychological Perspectives and Etiology of Disorders, woman sitting staring out window, StudySmarterThinking, Pixabay.com

Overgeneralization: You believe that one negative event indicates a pattern of such events that will never end. A bad day in your head tells you that you will always have bad days. If you get in an accident, you may make statements like, "this will always happen to me." Overgeneralization can lead to extreme fear and anxiety about driving.

Mental filter: You are the ultimate pessimist. You can't help but notice negative qualities or events. Even in mostly positive events, you cannot help but fixate on the bad. Even though you look great, you can't help but focus persistently on a tiny pimple on your chin. This kind of thinking can easily lead to symptoms of depression.

Catastrophizing: You frequently jump to conclusions about a situation. You make negative interpretations of events that are unsubstantiated. As a result, something that should have caused you very little distress causes you significant distress. You give a presentation that goes perfectly well, but you're still convinced that your teacher hated it.

Personalization: When a negative event occurs, you believe that you are the cause of that event when there is no way you could be responsible. You often feel guilt and blame for situations you could not have changed. You are also more likely to take things personally. Your parents are getting a divorce, and you are convinced it is your fault because you got in a fight with them last week. In reality, your parents' problems are entirely unrelated to you.

Psychological Perspectives and Etiology of Disorders - Key takeaways

  • Etiology is the cause or origin of a disease or mental disorder.
    • There are three types of etiology of disorders: intrinsic, extrinsic, and idiopathic.
  • Biological factors:
    • Our genes may make us vulnerable to developing mental disorders. Behavior geneticists have sought to determine the heritability of psychological disorders.
    • Over- or under-activity in the brain may also be correlated with psychological disorders.
    • Treatments using the biological perspective include anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, anti-psychotic medication, electroconvulsive therapy, and psychosurgery.
  • The cognitive perspective on psychological disorders suggests that the etiology of psychological disorders is dysfunctional or maladaptive thoughts.
  • The behaviorist perspective suggests that one way we learn abnormal behavior is through conditioned emotional responses.
  • The vulnerability-stress model states that we all have predispositions or vulnerabilities to developing a psychological disorder under sufficient stress.

Frequently Asked Questions about Psychological Perspectives and Etiology of Disorders

Psychological perspectives of abnormal behavior look at how a person's social environment, learned behavior, and past experiences may contribute to psychological disorders.  

Etiology is the cause or origin of a disease or mental disorder.

Psychological models that explain the etiology of mental disorders include behavioral, cognitive, psychodynamic, and biological.

The causes of psychological disorders based on perspectives are as follows:

  • Behavioral perspectives: psychological disorders are the result of learned behaviors. 
  • Social/Environmental perspectives: psychological disorders are triggered by social and environmental stressors. 
  • Cognitive Perspective: dysfunctional thinking leads to the development of psychological disorders. 
  • Biological Perspectives: genetics and heritability make us vulnerable to psychological disorders. 


Psychogenic etiology perspectives of disorders say that mental disorders are caused by emotional and psychological stressors. 

Final Psychological Perspectives and Etiology of Disorders Quiz

Question

What was Rosenhan's main hypothesis?

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Rosenhan hypothesized that the hospital staff would be unable to determine that the participants in the study were not schizophrenic

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How did the participants get admitted to the mental health hospitals?

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They reported that they heard voices

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What symptoms were the participants showing in the hospitals? 

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None! Once they were admitted, they had no symptoms of any mental health diagnosis. 

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What were the participants labeled with?

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When they were in the hospital, they were labeled as schizophrenic. When they were discharged, they were labeled as schizophrenic in remission. 

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What did Rosenhan find?

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The clinicians were unable to determine that the participants were not actually struggling with mental illness and simply viewed the participants' behavior as in line with schizophrenia. 

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What is an interesting finding from the study?

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The actual patients in the hospital were able to determine that the participants were fake patients 

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What is Rosenhan's central question in the study?

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Rosenhan’s central question is if mental health clinicians can actually determine who is suffering from a mental disorder and who is not

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Why is Rosenhan's study useful?

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Rosenhan’s study is useful because it makes us question the accuracy of mental health diagnoses and shows the importance that labels have

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What do we learn about labeling from Rosenhan's study?

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We learn that labels have more power than we realize. Once you get a label (whether accurate or not), it sticks, and everything you do will be viewed to fit in with that label. 

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What did Rosenhan's follow up study show?

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When hospital staff knew they were a part of a study trying to determine who was not a real patient, they presumed that dozens of people who were actual patients were the fake patient.

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Why can't this study be replicated nowadays?

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Society now doesn't give people treatment for mental health disorders as it used to

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What are a couple of strengths of this study?

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Variety of hospitals, clinicians did not know they were partaking the study, all participants reported the same symptom

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Why is this study important in showing the influence of labels?

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It shows that once someone was labeled as schizophrenic, all of their prior and future behaviors were attributed to that label

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​​​​​Is there actually a difference in how people with mental health disorders and those without act?


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Good question! It depends on everything! Clearly in this study, there was no difference reported (or the label of schizophrenia was so powerful that even if there were behavioral differences, they weren't able to be seen)

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Why do you think the actual patients were able to determine that the participants were fake patients?

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Maybe their judgment wasn't clouded by the schizophrenia diagnosis. Maybe, since they were in a psychiatric hospital, they didn't hold the same stigma surrounding mental illnesses that clinicians do and therefore could see past the label. 

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Define etiology.

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Etiology is the cause or origin of a disease or mental disorder.

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What are the 3 types of etiology of disorders?


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Intrinsic, extrinsic, idiopathic

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____________ is the proportion of the variability of a trait within a population that is due to genetics. 

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Heritability

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True or False? The biological perspective ignores the influence of brain chemistry and structure on the development of psychological disorders. 

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False

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Decreased activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin is correlated with major depressive disorder.  This is an example of how __________ may be correlated with a psychological disorder.

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brain chemistry

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Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are an example of what type of biological treatment?

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Antidepressant medication

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What is the difference between the psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approach? 

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The psychoanalytic approach focuses on uncovering a person's unconscious feelings and desires. The psychodynamic approach focuses on helping a person understand and reveal past trauma that they are suppressing can lead to healing.

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_______________ refers to a type of learning that creates a conditioned response by pairing an unconditioned stimulus with a neutral stimulus.

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Classical conditioning

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__________ (emotional over-reactivity) may form due to a conditioned emotional response

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Neuroticism

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The ____________ states that under sufficient stress, we all have predispositions or vulnerabilities to developing a psychological disorder.

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vulnerability-stress model

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This type of cognitive distortion involves black and white thinking that often leads to unrealistic expectations of oneself and others.


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All-or-nothing thinking

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You are the ultimate pessimist. You can't help but notice negative qualities or events. Even in the presence of mostly positive events, you cannot help but fixate on the bad. What cognitive distortion does this describe?

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Mental Filter

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 When a negative event occurs, you believe that you are the cause of that event when there is no way you could be responsible.  You often feel guilt and blame for situations that you could not have changed. What cognitive distortion does this describe?

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Personalization

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If the heritability of a trait is .29, what does this mean?

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29% of the variation of that trait within the population is due to genetics. 

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True or False? 

Ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates, on the other hand, were the first to suggest that mental illness is a disease similar to any other physical disorder and originates from the brain. 


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True

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Who were the first people to suggest that a mental health disorder is comparable to a physical disorder?

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Ancient Greeks

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What is intrinsic etiology?

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Comes from internal factors

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What is extrinsic etiology?

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Comes from external factors

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What is idiopathic eitology?

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Comes from internal factors

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True or false?


A mental health disorder can only have one etiology. 

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True

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What does behavioral genetics study?

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Potential genetic causes for behavior have sought to determine the heritability of psychological disorders

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What is heritability?

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The proportion of the variability of a trait within a population that is due to genetics

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Why is drug therapy used to treat psychological disorders?

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It changes someone's brain chemistry and physical functioning to reduce symptoms

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According to the vulnerability-stress model, can anyone develop a psychological disorder?

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Yes

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What does all-or-nothing thinking encapsulate?

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You have to be the best and there is no other option

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What does overgeneralization encapsulate?

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You think that since something bad happens to you once, it'll happen to you all the time

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What does mental filter encapsulate?

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You always look at the negatives of every situation

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What does catastrophizing encapsulate?

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You jump to conclusions and always interpret an event to have the worst possible outcome

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What does personalization encapsulate?

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You blame yourself for negative events happening 

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What is the difference between mental filter and personalization?

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For mental filter, you are pessimistic and assume things will go wrong. For personalization, you blame yourself for something going wrong. 

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True or False: David Rosenhan wondered if a person's symptoms lead to a diagnosis, or if the biases and training of the clinician determine the diagnosis. 

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True 

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In what year did Rosenhan conduct his study on the influence of labels? 

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1973

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