Definitions of Abnormality


Statistical Infrequency

Definition: Statistical Infrequency occurs when an individual has a lesson common characteristic, for example being more depressed or less intelligent than the rest of the population.

  • Statistics are about numbers (things can be defined by how often we observe them),and according the the statistical definition any relaively usual behaviour or characteristic can be thought of as 'normal', and any different behaviour as 'abnormal.' 
  • We can say, as societies, that only a small number at one time will have an irrational fear of buttons, or beleive that their neighbours are clowns, for example.

Example; IQ and intellectual disabilility disorder

  • For any human characteristic, most of the population will cluster around the average, and that the further we go above or below that average, the fewer people will attain that score. 
  • This is called the normal distribution, and is evident when looking at IQ.
  • The average IQ is set at 100. 
  • Most people (68%) have an average IQ in the range from 85-115. 
  • Only 2% of people score below 70, and are considered as abnormal, being liable to receive a diagnosis of a psychological disorder0 intellectual disability disorder (mental retardation).
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Statistical Infrequency-AO3

Real Life Application- Statistical infrequency has real life application in the diagnosis of intellectual disability disorder. Therefore, there is a place for statistical infrequency in thinking about what are normal and abnormal behaviours and characteristics. All assessment of patients with mental disorders include some kind of measurement of how severe their symtoms are as compared to statistical norms, therefore SI is a useful part of clinical assessment.

Unusual Characteristics can be positive- IQ scores over 130 are just as unusual as those below 70, but these wouldn't be considered to need treatment. Therefore, this behaviour is considered abnormal, but does not mean it requires treatment to return to normal, as it's considered a blessing. Therefore SI would never be used alone to make a diagnosis.

Not everyone unusual benefits from a label- When someone is living a fulfilled life, there is no benefit in labelling them as abnormal, regardless of how unusual they are. So someone with a low IQ who is not distressed or effected would not need a diagnosis of intellectual disability. The label may infect reflect negatively on them, and affect their lifestyle.

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Deviation from Social Norms

Concerns nehaviour that is different from the accepted standards of behaviour in a community or society.

Norms are culturally specific- Norms change accross generations and cultures, so there are relatively few behaviours that would be considered universally abnormal on the basis that they breach social norms. For example, homosexuality is still viewed as abnormal in some cultures.

Example; Anti-social personality disorder

An individual with anti social personality disorder (psychopathy) tends to be impulsive, aggressive and irresponsible. Accoring to the DSM-5, one important symtptom is an 'absence of prosocial internal standards assoisiated with failure to conform to lawful or culturally normative ethical behaviour.' So, we are making the social judgement that a psychopath is abnormal because they don't conform to our moral standards. Psychopathic behaviour would be considered abnormal in a range of cultures. 

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Deviation from Social Norms- AO3

Not a sole explanation- Deviation from social norms has value in it;s real life application in the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. However, even in this case there are other factors to consider, for example the distress to other people resulting from antisocial personality disorder (failure to function adequately). So, in practice, devation from social norms isn't the sole explanation in defining abnormality.

Cultural relativism- Social norms vary vastly accross cultures and gemerations. For example, a person from one cultural group may label someone from another as being abnormal according to their cultures standards rather than their actual behaviour. An example is people who hear voices, which may be considered socially acceptable in some cultures but would be a sign of mental abnormality in the UK.

Can lead to human rights abuses- Too much reliance on this definition to understand abnormality can lead to systematic abuse of human rights. For example, looking at the historical examples of devation from social norms, it is clear that these diagnosies were there to maintain control over minority ethnic groups and women. (***********-women-sexual attraction to w/c men). These classifications seem ridiculous today, but only due to the change in societies social norms. 

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Failure to Function Adequately

When someone is unable to cope with the ordinary demands of day-to-day living.

Rosenhan and Seligman (1989) have proposed some signs that can be used to determine someone who is not coping;

  • No longer conforms to standard interpresonal rules (maintaiing eye contact and respecting personal space).
  • When a person experiences extreme/severe personal distress.
  • When a person's behaviour becomes irrational or dangerous to themselves or others.

Example; Intellectual disability disorder- Very low IQ. However, a diagnosis would not be made on solely this basis- an individual must also be failing to function adequately before a diagnosis would be given.

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Failure to Function Adequately- AO3

Patient's perspective- This definition attempts to include the subjective experience of the individual. It may not be entirely satisfactory in it's approach bevause it is difficult to assess distress, but it acknowleges that the experience of the patient is important. Therefore failure to function adequately is useful criterion for assessing abnormality.

Similar to deviation from social norms? It can be difficult to say when someone is really failing to function adequately and when they are just deviating from social norms. For example, spiritualists take part in spiritual rituals believing they are communicating with the dead. We may see this as irrational and failure to function adequately, but it may just be an alternative lifestyle that doesn't mirror the normal lifestyle of people in society. If we treat these behaviours as 'failures,' we risk limiting personal freedom and discriminating against minority groups.

Subjective judgement- Someone has to judge whether someone is fasiling to function adequately, by assessing if they are distressed. Some patients may say they are distressed but may be judged as not suffering and visa verca. Checklists such as the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale aim to increase the objectivity of judgements, however the principle remains that it comes down to an individuals decision. 

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Deviation from Ideal Mental Health

When someone does not meet a criteria set for good mental health. Once we have a picture of how we should be psychologically healthy, then we can begin to identify who deviates from this ideal. 

Jahoda 91958) suggested that we are in good mental health if we;

  • Have no symptoms or distress.
  • Are rational and can perceive ourselves accurately.
  • Self actualise.
  • Can cope with stress.
  • Have a realistic view of the world.
  • Have good self esteem and lack guilt.
  • Are independent of other people.
  • Can successfully work, love and enjoy our leisure.
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Deviation from Ideal Mental Health-AO3

It is a comprehensive definition- It covers a broad range of criteria for mental health, and probably covers most of the reasons someone would seek mental health advice/health services, or be referred for help. The sheer range of factors Jahods discuessed makes it a good tool.

Cultural relativism- Some of jahoda's criteria are subjective to Western European and North American cultures (culturaqlly bound). For example, the emphasis on self actualisation and personal achievement may be considered self indulgent in much of the world due to its emphasis on individuals rather than a family or community. (Individualist vs Collectivist cultures). 

Sets an unrealistically high standard for mental health- Very few of us attain all of Jahoda's criteria for mental health, and probably none of us achieve them all at the same time or keep them up for a duration. Therefore, this approach deems all of us to be lackig ideal mental health, so being abnormal. On the positive side, this makes it clear to people the ways in which they could benefit seeking treatment- say counselling- to improve their mental health. At the other extreme, devation from ideal mental health is probably of no value in thinking about who might benefit from treatment against their will. 

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