PSY 150, General Psychology
May 8, 2014
Biological Factors of Homelessness
Sheila McKehnie said, “People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.” This illustrates the important point that we cannot dismiss a person’s human dignity simply because he or she lives on the street. On the contrary, we need to acknowledge their equality and think about the endless factors that could have put these people on the streets. There are many biological and social factors that can lead to homelessness, but this essay will be focused on some key biological factors. Three major biological factors related to becoming or being homeless are stress, achievement motivation, and mental illness. According to Mark Krause and Daniel Corts (2012), stress is “a psychological and physiological reaction that occurs when perceived demands exceed existing resources to meet those demands,” (p. 597). Stress physically prepares the body to take on a ‘fight or flight’ response to these high demands, and constantly choosing the ‘flight’ response may be a characteristic of a person who has ended up homeless. On its own, stress has the ability to greatly hurt a person’s ability to perform well, but it is how one copes with stress that may lead to him or her living on the streets. We have probably all experimented with both positive and negative coping mechanisms when faced with a stressful situation. Positive responses to stress would include optimism, resilience, post-traumatic growth, biofeedback, and meditation (Krause & Corts, 2012, p. 608). Negative coping techniques, when used routinely, can be the downfall of a person. Negative affectivity plays a big role in this, and refers to “the tendency to respond to problems with a pattern of anxiety, hostility, anger, guilt, or nervousness,” (Krause & Corts, 2012, p. 610). These responses can overpower a person’s life and leave them hopeless to accomplish anything, as well as lead them to physical issues, and therefore are a large part of what may leave a person living on the streets. The tendency to choose negative or positive responses is partially engrained in a person’s biological makeup, however, and it is not necessary in their power to choose one or the other. Les Parrot disturbances in brain chemistry are a large factor in anxiety (1993, p. 68). Those who are prone to react poorly to stressful situations are the people who will let those situations drive them to accomplish nothing, lose everything, and end up with no place to go. Issues with motivation may be another cause of homelessness. Corts and Krause (2012) define achievement motivation as “the drive to perform at high levels and to accomplish significant goals,” (p. 422). Many factors may lead to a lack of this motivation, making homelessness more likely. Furthermore, there are different types of motivation, and one way to contrast these motives is to compare the goals individuals may have in mind. Approach goals consist of an “enjoyable and pleasant incentive” one may be reaching for, while avoidance goals consist of trying to avoid “unpleasant outcomes,” (Corts & Krause, 2012, p. 422). Issues with parents growing up are one example of what may lead to a lack of motivation and a large amount of avoidance goals. If they were raised being constantly discouraged by their parents or guardians, it may become engrained in their minds that they will never be enough. If they believe that they will truly never be able to accomplish anything worthwhile, they may stop trying in order to avoid failure. Les Parrott suggests that depression may be another leading cause to a lack of motivation. One of the major effects of depression is a lack of involvement in anything that once greatly interested the person, and evolves into a lack of motivation to do anything (Parrot, 1993, p. 87). These problems with motivation not only contribute to the reasons homeless people end up on the...
References: Author N/A. (July 2009). Mental Illness and Homelessness. National Coalition for the
Homeless. Retrieved from http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/Mental_Illness.html
Cortes, Daniel and Krause, Mark. (2012). Psychological Science: Modeling Scientific
Literacy. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
Parrot, Les. (1993). Helping the Struggling Adolescent. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing.
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