Abnormality Part 1: Definitions of Abnormality

HideShow resource information

Deviation from social norms definition

Deviation from social norms:

  • we have explicit and implicit rules we must abide by
  • Highway Code says we need to drive on left = Explicit
  • Social convention requires us to be quiet in the theatre = Implicit
  • people who deviate from these seen as abnormal
  • this approach takes in account behaviours that are abnormal for the individual and for society 
1 of 9

Limitations of this method

- it is generally based on the opinions of a minority within society rather than the majority

  • Norms in society change over time: moral and social attitudes change. E.g women wearing trousers and views on homosexuality
  • Behaviour is context specific: leaping up and down and yelling encouragement is accpetable at a football match but abnormal when shopping in a supermarket for example
  • Abormal or criminal? : People who violate legal rules are usually seen as criminals rather than psychologically abrnomal. In some cases it can be hard to differentiate
  • Abuse of human rights: there is a risk that those who deviate and are labelled "mad" and therefore are treated accordingly
  • Culutural Relativism: rules are different for different cultures 
2 of 9

Culture, sub-culture, race and gender

  • Culture plays an important part in our understanding of abnormality
  • an apparently normal and acceptable behaviour in one culture can be seen as unacceptable in others
  • psychological illness is not so clear cut or well defined
  • depression is rarely reported in Asian culture
  • Rack (1982) reports Asians rarely consult doctor with emotional problems and only report physical symptoms of stress e.g tiredness, lack of sleep and appetite
  • Mental illnesses carry a stigma it is unusual for Chinese doctors to diangose such disorders in their patients
3 of 9

Culture-bound syndromes

Koro: confined to South East Asia, morbid fear that the penis or ******* will grow inwars and cause death

Amok: characterised by furious outbursts of anger and aggression followed by sleep and a forgetting of the act

Anorexia nervosa: confined almost entirely to western culture

Social class and abnormality: in UK middle classes far more likely to be diagnosed with depression and eating disorders whereas lower classes more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia

Social causation hypothesis: the higher levels of stress due to poverty experienced by the poor is more likely to lead them to psychiatric illness

Social drift hypothesis: perhaps psychiatric illness causes people to become poorer as they can't hold down responsible jobs. Good example of cause and effect: is poverty causing illness or is illness causing poverty? 

4 of 9

Gender and abnormality

Anorexia nervosa: over 90% of sufferers are women (in fact young girls)

Depression: - clinical depression is twice as common in women as it is in men 
                        - manic depression equally common in both sexes, women have more                                    bouts of depression and men more bouts of mania 
Autism: about 80% of sufferers are boys

Different diagnosis: doctors and psychiatrists have different expectations for the sexes. Doctors seem to describe healthy characteristics of men and women differently. Doctors believe men = asserstive and decisive and women dependent and emotional

Physiology: obvious difference between sexes is their hormones

Traditional roles (feminist explanation): traditionally stayed at home and looked after children, men out at work and socialising. Isolation could be a factor in depression for women

Diet: recent studies suggested possible link between teenage diets and later depression. Low calorie diets can deprive body of amino acids. One of these has been implicated in serotonin production (makes you feel good) 

5 of 9

Failure to function adequately

Definition: an attempt to define abnormality based on an inability to cope with day to day life caused by psychological distress. Mentally healthy people judged as able to operate within certain acceptable limits eg going to work, eating meals. If any behaviours/symptoms interfere with daily functioning could be considered abnormal. 

Rosenham and Seligman (1989): proposed 7 major features which indicate a person to be not functioning adequately. More of these features that are possessed by individual, more likely to be considered abnormal.

1) Maladaptiveness: most abnormal people report that they are suffering
2) Unconventional behaviour: ways in which abormal individuals behave in various situations differ substantially from ways most people would behave in those situations
3) Unpredictability and loss of control: behaviour of abnormal individuals often very variable and uncontrolled and inappropriate
4) Irrationality and incomprehensibility: not clear why anyone would choose to behave in that way
5) Observer discomfort: abnormal behaviour can break unspoken rules of behaviour e.g not standing too close to others and makes observer uncomfortable
6) violation of moral and ideal standards: behaviour may be judged to be abormal when violates moral standards 

6 of 9

Limitations of Rosenham and Seligman

Cultural relativism: applying a western model to other cultures which is inaccurate. Also affects class too. People from lower social groups of ethnic minorities may be diagnosed with mental disorders because there lifestyles are different. May not be a simple link between abnormality and failure to function. People may not be able to function due to social and economic eeasons rather than mental health problems.

Exceptions to the rule: people sometimes behave dysfuntionally temporarily in response to stress or context. E.g students might experience extreme anxiety before exams and neglect personal hygiene/normal sleep habits but this wouldn't be seen as psychological abnormality

7 of 9

Deviation from ideal mental health

Definition: focuses on what mkaes us mentally healthy rather than unhealthy. Attempt to state what ideal mental health is and then consider that deviation from these factors can be defined as abnormal. 

Marie Jahoda (1958) argued it was better to focus on common concepts to describe mental health and then look for deviation from these, came up with 6 criteria that describe mental health.

1) Self attitudes (esteem): high self esteem is a strong sense of identity related to mental health
2) Personal growth (self-actualisation): We all have potential and strive to fulfill this. Mental health problems occur when we are prevented from fulfilling our true potentional.
3) Integration (resistance to stress): Jahoda called this inablity to tolerate anxiety without disintegration. Mentally healthy will developed good coping strategies for dealing with stressful sitautions
4) Autonomy: autonomous people are reliant on their own inner resources and can remain relatively stable even in the face of hard knocks, frsutrations and deprivations
5) Perception of reality: seeeing oneself and the world in realistic terms
6) adapting and mastering the environment: being competent in all areas of life and being flexible rather than rigid, being able to adjust.  

8 of 9

Limitations of Jahoda

If we just looked at these criteria we would all be classed as abnormal

  • 6 criteria are an ideal set of standards and very few people are able to meet all of them
  • cultural relativism: self actualisation is relevant for individualist cultures and not collectivist cultures 
9 of 9


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Abnormality resources »