definitions of abnormality, deviations from social norms

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Individual differences- definitions of abnormality- Deviation from social norms
Society has certain expectations about how a person should behave. If a
person behaves in a way that is different from these expectations the
person is classed as abnormal
For example, a schizophrenic is abnormal as their behaviour is very
different to that which society expects, such as negative self care or
talking to someone who isn't there
Problems with deviation from social norms
Cultural relativism (imposed etic)
Different cultures have different ideas about what is acceptable in their
society. This means that behaviour in one country could be seen as normal
but in another country it could be seen as abnormal. Therefore we can't be
certain that the person is abnormal and needs treatment or if they are just
For example, afro Caribbean are 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with
schizophrenia in Britain because of their culture
Deviance is related to context and degree
Making judgements on abnormality is often related to the context of the
For example, a person wearing very little on a beach is regarded as normal
however if that behaviour occurred at a formal gathering it would be seen
as abnormal.
There isn't a clear line between being abnormal and simply harmless
eccentricity, for example, being rude is abnormal behaviour but not
evidence of a mental illness.
If deviation from social norms isn't related to context and degree then it
can't offer a accurate definition of abnormality
Susceptible to abuse
This definition of abnormality varies with time, what is socially acceptable
now, may not have been 50yrs ago.
For example, today homosexuality is more acceptable but in the past it was
included under sexual and gender identity disorders.
This allows mental health professionals to classify people as mentally ill if
they go against social attitudes.


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