Ap Psychology - Schizophrenia Essay

Schizophrenia can be particularly tricky because there are so many misconceptions about this disorder in society, that come exam day, it can be hard to distinguish between what you thought previously, and what you actually learned in your class. So, in this AP Psychology Crash Course Review, we will cover everything you need to know and understand about this topic for the AP exam.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is one of the more complex and severe disorders that you will learn in AP Psychology. The main characteristics of this disorder are distorted thoughts and behaviors, which often manifest as delusions or hallucinations.

Delusions are beliefs that are not real; if you are experiencing delusions, you can’t understand that they have no basis in reality. There are two different kinds: delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution. If you truly believe that you are the President of the United States, but in reality, you’re a junior in high school, then you are experiencing delusions of grandeur. And if you believe that there is a secret group out to get you, then you have delusions of persecution.

Hallucinations are any type of sensory experience that does not have an actual external sensory stimulation. Hallucinations are the classic symptom that people associate with schizophrenia, and it can range from hearing voices or feeling someone touching you when there is no one around.

Tip: Don’t confuse schizophrenia with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)! DID is a split between the conscious personalities of a person’s brain; It is a split between reality and the individual’s distorted sense of reality.

Types of Schizophrenia

There are four different types of schizophrenia, each of which is critical to understand for the exam. They are disorganized, paranoid, catatonic, and undifferentiated.

Disorganized Schizophrenia has two main characteristics: odd use of language and inappropriate affect. Odd usage of language can either mean making up words or stringing together words that rhyme. Inappropriate affect is when you have an entirely inappropriate reaction to a situation, like if you laughed at a family member’s funeral.

Paranoid schizophrenia has one key symptom: delusions of persecution. Previously I described delusions of persecution as believing there is a group that is out to get you; when someone is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, it means that type of delusion is fairly consistent in that person’s life.

Catatonic schizophrenia’s main characteristic is unusual body movement. The individual suffering from this may either jerk around or not move for hours on end. A symptom of this type of schizophrenia is waxy flexibility; this means that when the individual is motionless for an extended period, a person will allow someone else to move his body in a different way and will continue to be motionless, but in that new pose.

Undifferentiated schizophrenia is when an individual demonstrates disordered thoughts and behaviors, but they don’t have any of the specific symptoms that are characteristic of the other three types of schizophrenia.

Positive vs. Negative Symptoms

It is important that you know that positive and negative symptoms are not referring to good and bad symptoms. Instead, understand positive and negative as plus or minus. Positive symptoms are added or excessive experiences that someone without schizophrenia would not have. These include delusions, hallucinations, inappropriate affect, and odd usage of language. Negative symptoms are things that a non-schizophrenic person would experience, but someone with schizophrenia would not. The unusual body movements and waxy flexibility associated with catatonic schizophrenia are both negative symptoms because the person with schizophrenia lacks normal body functioning. Another negative symptom is flat affect, which is the absence of any emotion.

Possible Causes & Genetic Basis for Schizophrenia

If you only have room in your mind for one possible cause of schizophrenia, remember the dopamine hypothesis. It is the most common theory for this disorder, and it essentially states that increased or abnormally high levels of dopamine in the brain can cause it.

If you have enough room in your mind for more than the dopamine hypothesis, remember that there is evidence for a genetic basis for the disorder. The genetic basis for this disorder is exhibited in twin and family studies, where people who have relatives with schizophrenia show an increased rate of having the disorder themselves. It is important to remember for the exam that the closer the relative with schizophrenia, the higher the prevalence of schizophrenia is in an individual. For example, twin studies show that there is a higher rate of schizophrenia in identical twins than in fraternal twins.

Tip: there is not one specific gene that causes schizophrenia. Instead, several genes have been linked to the disorder.

The diathesis-stress model is another theory that you should remember for the AP Psychology exam in regards to schizophrenia. It fits in with the idea that some disorders are nature and nurture. Essentially, the theory is that an individual may have a genetic predisposition for schizophrenia, but the disorder will present itself when external or environmental stressors are placed on the individual.

Another interesting theory that has a biological basis is the idea that individuals with schizophrenia have enlarged ventricles in the brain, or the sides of their brain are asymmetrical.

For the AP exam, it is better to be able to fully understand and grasp the most relevant theories (like the dopamine hypothesis and the genetic basis) rather than learn a little about all of the theories.


Understanding how schizophrenia is treated is why it’s essential to remember the dopamine hypothesis. Antipsychotic medication is a typical treatment for someone suffering from this disorder, but its primary job is to reduce dopamine activity in the brain. However, because of the severity of the medication, using these drugs has presented some serious adverse side effects, such as muscle tremors and tradeoff dyskinesia. In your class, your teacher may have gone into further detail about ways to treat schizophrenia, but for the exam, concentrate your efforts on understanding that antipsychotic medications are used to block or reduce dopamine activity.

Bracing Yourself for the AP Exam

Next up on this AP Psychology Crash Course Review are some practical tips to prepare you for the AP Psych exam. It’s almost unavoidable that some questions on schizophrenia will end up on your exam in May. It is an interesting and complex disorder and will most likely be used to test your understand and memorization of the main psychological disorders.

In 2007, one of the Free Response questions was solely on schizophrenia. The question asked students to present information similar to what is covered in this crash course. Students had to give a few characteristic symptoms, describe the genetic basis and the dopamine hypothesis, what the medication used in treatment is trying to do, and the differences between dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia. Although you will most likely not get a replica of this question in the upcoming exam, it’s a good basis and outline for what the exam expects you to understand about schizophrenia.


Schizophrenia is complex and is an important disorder in the abnormal psychology section of your AP Psych course and, subsequently, the AP Psych exam. If you come around to studying for the exam, and you feel unsure about it, then concentrate your efforts on this crash course!

•  First, know that there are four different kinds of schizophrenia (disorganized, paranoid, catatonic, and undifferentiated) and know the key symptom for each.

•  If you get to the exam, and you’re presented with specific examples of behavior that is related to schizophrenia, know that they usually can be traced back to delusions or hallucinations, so know the difference between the two. If you get confused on a question, take a step back and remind yourself of the difference.

•  Also, make sure you understand positive and negative symptoms! Remember they are not good and bad, they are an excess of behavior or a lack of behavior.

•  When it comes to possible causes, the dopamine hypothesis should be enough to guide you home. It is the most common theory and logically would be the most likely to show up.

•  However, try to understand the reasoning behind the genetic basis shown in twin and family studies.

•  And again, if you still have room in your head after all that studying, squeeze in the diathesis-stress model (remember it’s explaining nature plus nurture).

•  Lastly, when it comes to treatment of schizophrenia, the most important thing to remember is that the antipsychotic medication is used to decrease the excess levels of dopamine that are associated with schizophrenia.

So that’s it for this AP Psychology Crash Course Review on schizophrenia! If you read the overview and your first thought was “Oh I got this,” then you’ll be fine! If that wasn’t your first thought, then go back and check it out again, and remember you’ll still be fine. If you’ve been struggling to study for the AP Psychology exam, then check out more of our AP Psychology Crash Course Reviews (like this one on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Don’t see a topic that you think we should cover in a crash course? Let us know! And good luck on the exam!

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1. Often misunderstood, schizophrenia is a psychological disorder affecting one percent of the population. In addition to treating the disorder, psychologists work to identify its nature and origins. • Identify two characteristic symptoms used to diagnose schizophrenia. 1) Loss of contact with reality 2) Delusions and hallucinations • Discuss a research finding that supports a genetic basis for schizophrenia. Research has found that the closer a person’s relationship is with someone who has schizophrenia the more likely they are to develop it. A child who has schizophrenic parents makes their risk of getting schizophrenia 14 times higher than someone whose parents aren't schizophrenic. • What is the dopamine hypothesis regarding the origins of schizophrenia? The dopamine hypothesis states that schizophrenia is related to an excess amount of dopamine in the brain. • Describe how medications used to treat schizophrenia affect the actions of neurotransmitters at the synapses. These medications may reduce dopamine activity which can reduce agitation and confusion one with schizophrenia experiences. • Identify a risk inherent in using medications in the treatment of schizophrenia.

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