AS Level - Psychology Unit 2 - Abnormality

Complete Abnormality Topic - Definitions, biological approach, behavioural approach, psychodynamic approach, cognitive approach, strengths and limitations.

  • Created by: Angeli
  • Created on: 14-05-12 13:11

Definitions of Abnormality

Devitation From Social Norms

All societies have their standards of bahaviour and attitudes. Deviating from these can be seen as abnormal.

Failure To Function Adequately

Being unable to cope with day to day demands e.g holding down a job can be seen as abnormal. Criteria from Rosenhan and Seligman 1989-

- behaviour that causes others distress

- irrational behaviour

- uncontrollable behaviour

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Definitions of Abnormality Cont.

Deviation From Ideal Mental Health

Deviation from ideal characteristics that people should possess to live optimally.

Jahodas 6 Criteria -

- Positive self attitude

- Self-actualisation - realising your potential

- Resistance to stress

- Personal autonomy - making own decisions

- Accurate perception of reality

- Adaption to environment

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Limitations of Definitions


- Changes in norms e.g homosexuality

- Must be considered in context

- Breaking norms isnt always a bad thing e.g slavery


- Patterns of behaviour vary between culture

- Failing to hold down a job may be due to other factors e.g state of the economy

- Some people with disorders can function adequately at least most of the time

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Brief Overview of Approaches

Biological Approach - Explains behaviour in terms of physiological or genetic factors. It focuses on physical treatments for psychological disorders e.g drugs, ECT.

Behavioural Approach - Claims that all behaviour is learned. It is believed that behaviours can be 'unlearned' - treatment of abnormal behaviour is based on this.

Psychodynamic Approach - Puts abnormal behaviour down to underlying psychological problems, often caused by past events and experiences. Treatments = psychoanalysis, where therapist tries to find and sort the underlying problems.

Cognitive Approach - Puts abnormality down to irrational and negative thoughts. So treatment focuses on changing the thinking of a person.

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Biological Approach to Abnormality

NUTSHELL - assumes that physical disorders are physical illnesses with physical causes.

AO1 - Genetics 

- faulty genes are known to cause some diseases that have psychological effects.

- identical twins - if one has schizo = 48% that the other will have it too.

- mental disorders = defects in many genes.

- physical disorders = defects in single gene.

 - Infections

- genes can cause flu which can lead to schizo

- 14% pregnant women with flu in first 3 months = gave birth to babies with schizo. 

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Biological Approach to Abnormality Cont.

AO2 - Strengths

- has a scientific basis in biology and evidence is present to show biology causescan produce psychological symptoms.

- people are not blames for disorders, they just have an illness.


- therapies raise ethical concerns = drugs = addiction

- psychological disorders may not be linked to any physical problem.

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Biological Treatments

AO1 - Psychosurgery

- the systematic damage of the brain in order to change behaviour.

- involves cutting the natural tissue in brain

- a treatment of last resort


- Controversial treatment - performed on people in absence of other effective treatments

- last resort - rarely performed today

- ethics - invasive

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Biological Treatments Cont.

AO1 - Drug Treatment

- Anti-anxiety drugs e.g BZ's = Valium - muscles relax

- Anti-psychotic - sedate symptoms e.g halluncinations/pyschotic disorders like schizo


- side effects - e.g stiffness

- efficiency - effective in reducing symptoms of mental disorders in SOME people.

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Behavioural Approach to Abnormality

NUTSHELL - Behaviourists argue that abnormal behaviour is leant in the same way all behaviour is leant; through classical and operant conditioning.

AO1 - Classical - association -

                                        Rayner 'Little Albert' - loud noise = fear

                                                                         - loud noise+rat = fear

                                                                         - rat only = fear

Operant - consequence of actions

              - rewards (positive reinforcement)

              - removal (negative reinforcement)

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Biological Treatments Cont.

AO1 - Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) - used to treat severe depression

- mild current sent throu patient whilst under anesthetic & muscle relaxant - less spasms - less risk of harm

- patients receive 6-9 treatments over a month

AO2 - side effects - bone fractures & memory loss

- efficiency - quick compared to drugs 60-70% showed improvement but 60% become depressed within a year.

- should only use anti-depressent drugs have no effect & risk of suicide.

- ethics - history of abuse - used as punishment in mental hospitals.

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Behavioural Approach to Abnormality Cont

AO2 - Strengths

- scientific approach - can be tested

- effective for treating phobias


- neglects genetics & biology

- not effective for all disorders e.g schizo

- ethics - aversions therapy

- not underlying causes only treats behaviour

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Behavioural Therapies

Systematic Desensitisation

- phobic person makes a heirarchy of fear

- when put into situation of fear = become anxious

- encourage to use relaxation techniques

- relaxation + anxiety can't happen at the same time

- repeated until feared event is linked with relaxation

- repeaded until fully desensitised

Aversion Therapy - removes an undesired behaviour by associating it with unpleasant feelings e.g alcohol and nausea producing drug given together - becomes conditioned, dont want to drink = sick feeling

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Cognitive Approach to Abnormality

NUTSHELL - assumes that behaviours are controlled by thoughts and beliefs - irrational thoughts and beliefs causes abnormal behaviours

AO1 - Becks Model - negative thoughts - negative feeling = depressions 

                                  2 responsible factors

- errors in logic - depressed people draw irrational conclusions about self when evaluating

- cognitive triad - negative views of world

                         - negative views of self

                         - negative views of future

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Cognitive Approach to Abnormality Cont.

Ellis Model

- rational + irrational thinking - form negative thoughts e.g polarized thinking

- problems occur if people engage in faulty thinking to the exent it becomes maladaptive - languages changes to 'must', 'should', 'ought'


- therapies only effective on some disorders e.g phobias not schizo

- negative thoughts can reflect the real world e.g depression realism = unemployment, recession.

- disorders may lead to dysfunctional thinking not the other way round

- doesnt take into account only biological predisposition.

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Cognitive Treatment

CBT - a way of thinking about how you think about yourself and the world around you & others and how what you do affects your thoughts and feelings.

- helps anxiety, depression, panic, phobia, stress, bulimia, OCD.

- breaks vicious circlr of maladaptive thinking, feeling and behaviour.

- when parts of sequenceare clearly outlined and understood, they can be changed

- person trains themselves to recognise rational thought process and challenge faulty processes so they can work out their own problems.


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Cognitive Treatments Cont.


+ effective in reducing symptoms of depression = most effective psychological treatment for depression

+ isnt invasive

+ teaches individuals to help themselves with new leaned skills

- can become dependent therapist

- not effective for people with high stress levels

- isnt a quick fix

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