Definitions of abnormality

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  • Created by: Toni Lowe
  • Created on: 26-05-13 10:51
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  • Definitions of abnormality
    • Deviation from social norms
      • Outline
        • Social norms are approved and expected ways of behaving in a particular society.
          • If people do not keep to the social norms of a society, they are likely to be considered "abnormal".
      • Evaluation
        • Eccentric or abnormal
          • Deviation from social norms does not always indicate abnormality.
            • A marathon runner dressed as a giant carrot may be thought of as strange or idiosyncratic, but they would not often be considered as mentally disturbed.
              • However, if an individual walked down the street claiming that aliens had taken over their brains, we would be more likely to suspect a mental disorder.
        • Abnormal or criminal
          • Behaviour of those who violate legal norms is usually regarded as criminal and is rarely considered to be a result of an underlying psychological disorder.
            • Behaviour such as rape and mass murder, however, make it hard to believe that anyone normal could have carried them out.
              • Psychological studies, such as Milgram and Zimbardo, have shown that in some circumstances people do behave in shocking ways.
        • The role of context
          • Much behaviour is subject to context
            • Leaping up and down and cheering would be seen as acceptable at a concert or football match, however, would be seen as very strange at a classical music performance.
        • Change with the times
          • Beliefs and ideas of abnormality and social norms change over time. What was considered deviant to one generation may be completely acceptable to the next.
    • Deviation from ideal mental health
      • Outline
        • This definition was first put forward by Jahoda (1958).
        • It looks at positives rather than negatives -  the idea of mental health rather than mental illness.
        • Jahoda identified six major criteria for optimal living.
          • An individual should maintain positive attitudes towards the self (e.g. self respect)
          • Self-actualisation - that we reach our full potential in life.
          • An individual should be resistant to stress.
          • They should maintain autonomy - this means they are self-reliant and can remain stable in the face of hard knocks in life.
          • They should have accurate perceptions of reality, not be too optimistic or too pessimistic.
          • They should be able to master and adapt to the environment, being competent in all areas of work and life and be able to change.
      • Evaluation
        • The difficulty of self-actualising
          • In reality, very few people achieve their full potential in life. If self-actualisation is a criterion for ideal mental health, most of us would be considered as mentally unhealthy.
        • Possible benefits of stress
          • Some individuals actually work  more efficiently in moderately stressful situations.
            • E.g. some actors say they perform best when experiencing a certain amount of anxiety.
        • Cultural issues
          • The ideas Jahoda puts forward are based on Western ideas of self-fulfilment and individuality.
    • Failure to function adequately
      • Outline
        • Rosenhan and Seligman (1989) suggest that the best way to define abnormality is to identify a set of abnormal characteristics.
          • Each of the characteristics on their own may not cause a problem butt several being present can be symptomatic of abnormality.
          • This definition uses a scale of abnormality that enables us to think in terms of degrees of normality and abnormality rather than make judgements one behaviour that is witnessed.
          • Some of the characteristics of abnormality according to this definition.
            • Observer discomfort
              • Social behaviour is governed by unspoken rules of behaviour, such as keeping reasonable distance. Those who see these rule being broken often experience some discomfort.
            • Personal distress / suffering
              • Most abnormal individuals report that they are suffering, so the presence of suffering is a key feature of abnormality.
            • Maladaptiveness
              • Behaviour that prevents an individual from achieving major life goals. Most abnormal behaviour is maladaptive.
      • Evaluation
        • Subjective
          • Behaviour that causes severe discomfort to one person may be perfectly acceptable to another person.
        • Exceptions to the rules
          • A student experiencing stress and anxiety before an exam may behave out of character and appear to not be functioning adequately, however, they would not necessarily be considered as abnormal.
        • People with mental illness can function adequately
          • Psychological disorders may not prevent a person from functioning adequately. People often maintain adequate functioning even though they have a serious mental illness.
            • E.g. an alcoholic may try to conceal their addiction  by acting as if nothing is wrong.

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