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3 definitions of abnormality :

  • Deviation from Social Norms
  • Failure to function
  • Deviation from Ideal Mental Heath
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Deviation from Social Norms

Norms are ways of behaving. According to this definition people who do not think and behave as everyone else expects can be seen as abnormal.

Behaviour that deviates from social norms can be seen as vivid and unpredictable and cause observers discomfort. The behaviour may also violate ideal and moral standards and may be delusional, irrational, obsessive and difficult to understand. (Examples of this would be OCD or Schizophrenia)

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  • DNS may just be eccentricity
  • Cultural Relativism
  • Criminal Activity
  • Social normas change over time
  • Political Control
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DNS May just be eccentricity

Behaviour that deviates from social norms is not always a sign of psychopathology.

For example you may see a person walking around the streets dressed as a big bunny, which is seen as abnormal but in reality they're only doing a charity walk.

This emphaises the importance of taking the context of behaviour into account.

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Cultural Relativism

Social norms are specific to a particular culture or society, so a behaviour seen as a deviation in one society may appear quiet acceptable in abother and vice versa.

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Criminal Activity

This is seen as a deviation because it is not acceptable in many societies but the legal system assumes people have control over their own behaviour, therefore those convicted of crimes are not usually considered mentally ill or involve psychopathology.

However some violent offenders may have brain abnormalities that mean they are not responsible for their actions.

In this case they do show a form of psychopathology.

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Social norms change over time

Example. Women being pregnant out of marriage before 1970's was seen as abnormal, women would be institutionalised in psychiatric ward. Attitudes have now changed as society has changed and is more common.

This means DNS does not provide an absolute definition of abnorality but is era-dependent.

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Political control

As social norms reflect the beliefs of a society they also have a political dimension.

Example. In some countries people who disagree with the ruling party may be classified as schizophrenic and locked up in psychiatric hospitals.

This is used as a political control as the society does not accept a range of different opinions as part of their social norms.

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Failure to function adequately (FFA)

This definition of abnormality focuses on the everyday behaviour of an individual. It is when people are not able to attain a normal pattern of behaviour on a day to day basis.

Common examples of this would be severe depression which leads to apathy and interia, meaning that the depressed person may fail to get up in the morning, let alone hold a job down.The condition may affect relationships and family life.

A change like this would be a clear sign of psychopathology.

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Characteristics of abnormality

Rosenhan and Seligman suggested some characteristics of abnormality that are related to FFA:

  • Observer Discomfort                                                                                                                    Abnormal  behaviour causes distress to observer
  • Unpredictability                                                                                                                                    FFA involves behaviour which is unpredictable and unconfortable (usually rely on people around us to be predictable)
  • Irrationality                                                                                                                                            Behaviour appears incoherant and lacks reason and purpose, therefore it is hard to understand.
  • Maladaptiveness                                                                                                 Behaviour that interferes with a persons day to day routine.
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  • FFA is context dependant
  • FFA may not be linked to psychological disorders
  • Disorders are not always associated with FFA
  • Cultural Relativism
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FFA is context dependent

Example. A political prisoner is going on a hunger strike and is showing behaviour which is maladaptive and unpredictable but is understandable in this context.

FFA May not be linked to psychological disorders

Example. Economic conditions, poverty or discrimination may prevent a person having a job and suppporting their family.

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Disorders are not always associated with FFA

Psychological disorders may not prevent someone from functioning adequately. Depression and anxiety may not prevent someone from holding down a job

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Cultural Relativism

Every culture has a different a life style, therefore FFA may look different depending which culture you are in.

However in any culture people need to earn a livelihood and raise children and failing to carry out these functions would satisfy the FFA definition.Therefore cultures everyday routines may vary but the principle of FFA can still be applied


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Devition From Ideal Mental Health

This definition defines what is normal rather what is abnormal therefore deviation from these ideals would be defined as abnormal

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Characteristics of DIMH

Jahoda came up with a list of characteristics she felt indicated ideal mental health:

  • A person should be in touch with their own identity and feelings
  • Be resistant to stress
  • Be focused on the future and self-actualisation
  • Should function as autonomous individuals
  • Should show empathy and understanding

The mode proposes that the absence of these criteria indicates abnormality and potential mental disorder.

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In touch with your own identity and feelings

Having self respect, self-confidence and being able to accept yourself. By doing this you can live with yourself and accept your limitations

Resistant to stress

Ability to take upon stress without becoming ill or breaking down. People who are mentally healthy are able to come up with effective coping strategies

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Function as autonomous individuals

Being independent and not reliant on others and taking responsibility for your own decision

Function as autonomous individuals

Being independent and not reliant on others and taking responsibility for your own decisions

Show empathy and your understanding

Being able to put yourself in another's shoes and seeing the world from their point of view

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  • DIMH exmpahises a positive attitude to human behaviour and experience DIMH therefore emphaises that we should try and improve ourselves.
  • Positive approach to the definition of abnormality, and focuses on what is desirable rather than what is undesirable.
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Cultural Relativity

Mainly based on western views of personal growth and achievement therefore if these criterias were applied to people in other societies or social groups there would be a higher incidence of abnormality found.

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Who can achieve this criteria?

Very few people would match all these characteristics laid down by Jahoda, therefore majority of the population would be classified as abnormal or maybe mentally disordered.

It is unclear how many characteristics an indivudual needs to be lacking before they would be judged to be abnormal.

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