A Systematic Approach to the Identification of Schizogenic Family Interaction

Ricketts, James L. (Ph.D., 1970)

Thesis directed by Associate Professor Peter G. Ossorio

There have been attempts by several theorists to establish a relationship between family schizogenic interaction and the subsequent development of schizophrenia in the family's offspring. Such theoretical descriptions (e.g., Bateson, Lidz) have failed to systematically label pertinent aspects of family schizogenic interaction. As a result of this non-systematic approach to description, it is difficult to (1) define points of agreement and disagreement among these theories and (2) use these formulations as reliable guides for identifying putative cases of schizogenic interaction.

Fortunately, a means for evaluating and comparing diverse theoretical descriptions is available. Descriptive Psychology (Ossorio, 1966, 1969) is a comprehensive system capable of encompassing other sets of descriptions. Because of this advantage, Descriptive Psychology can be used systematically to compare and analyze schizogenic interaction theories within a more comprehensive framework. The comparison and subsequent integration of several schizogenic interaction theories has resulted in the construction of a new and comprehensive systematic formulation designated as "Smythe theory" (Ricketts, 1967).

A theory should facilitate reliable and comprehensive identification of all phenomena allegedly within its domain. Unfortunately, none of the schizogenic interaction theories has successfully achieved comprehensive and reliable identification of schizogenic phenomena. Accordingly, the principal aim of this study has been to deal with this question: Compared to established theories, to what extent can the Smythe conceptualization successfully identify schizogenic interaction phenomena?

To achieve this aim, Smythe theory was compared with two major representative theories of schizogenic interaction: (1) Bateson's double-bind theory and (2) Lidz's theory of schizogenic role relationships.

College students were trained to identify putative cases of schizogenic interaction on the basis of either the Lidz, Bateson, or Smythe conceptualizations.

First, equivalent baselines of achievement for each theoretically- trained group had to be established. Experimental subjects were provided with training in one of these theories, while control subjects were given non-theoretical bases for their judgments.

The experimental groups rated a set of stories in terms of the extent of schizogenic content present. The story sets were systematically drawn from a pool of 32 stories, representing various degrees of schizogenicity. Half of the stories were written to conform to the specifications of Bateson's theory; the remainder were developed according to the requirements of Lidz's theory. Each of the theoretically-trained groups was able to successfully identify those cases of schizogenic interaction for which it was specifically trained. Since achievement proficiencies for this task were equivalent for these groups, training procedures were not biased in favor of any single theory.

Secondly, the essential question of relative comprehensiveness was examined. A comparison of the experimental groups was made in terms of how well they discriminated instances of schizogenic interaction for which they were not specifically trained. Results indicated that the Bateson group was significantly less able to make comprehensive discriminations than the Smythe and Lidz groups. In general, Smythe group achievements were consistently superior to the Lidz group, though the differences were not generally statistically significant.

Next, the effects of the theoretical conceptualizations were isolated from those of various non-theoretical aspects of the training procedure. The effects of (1) non-theoretical training in a description of schizophrenia and (2) training by example were found to be negligible among the five control groups. In addition, sex of subjects was not associated with achievement.

Thus, differential achievements were convincingly attributed to the different theoretical perspectives. It was concluded that Smythe theory permits more comprehensive identification of putative schizogenic interaction than either of the other two representative theories.

The systematic properties of Smythe theory have well-defined advantages over other descriptions. These advantages were discussed and then shown to apply to other examples of psychopathology. Given this study's findings, it appears that a crucial longitudinal study is indicated. [302 pp.]