Outline; failure to function adequately
Rosenhan & Seligman (1989) suggested psychological abnormality defined as a range of characteristics that suggest a person is failing to function adequately in their daily life. They may; not be able to adapt to life healthily, be experiencing personal distress, show irrational behaviour, onlookers may be uncomfortable when observing their behaviour. Fewer abnormal features displayed, then the more normal they can be considered.
Observer discomfort; Behaviour governed by unspoken rules and common understandings between people. Rules are broken, then observers notice them, may feel uncomfortable.
Personal distress; People suffering psychological abnormality often report discomfort or suffering. Doesn't always mean they are abnormal however, as a normal grief reaction would feature suffering often to a severe extent.
Maladaptive behaviour; Able to adapt appropriately to new situations means person can reach personal goals in life; to succeed at work, to have a good relationship. Being unable to adapt would prevent this and so could be considered abnormal. It may be that inability to adapt caused by lack of knowledge about a situation not psychological abnormality.
Irrational; or unexpected behaviours can often be regarded as abnormal.
Evaluate; failure to function adequately
Easy to see consequences of dysfunctional behaviour; Simple observations can be made to observe the dysfunctional behaviour and so determine the level of inadequate functioning. As a tool to measure levels of abnormality; done relatively easily.
Clearly defined criteria; Features by Rosenhan and Seligman detailed and clear. Provides framework to assess level of dysfunction in relation to their inability to function adequately.
Subjective judgements; although detailed, application of the criteria still requires subjective interpretation. Likely that these will be influenced by social and cultural beliefs and biases; application of definition likely to be unreliable when applied to abnormality.
Context consideration; Definition fails to recognise importance of context in individual’s behaviour; could be due to other external factors
Cultural differences; Cultural relativism; uses western ideals as to what is ‘failing to function adequately’ when trying to apply a universal definition of abnormality.
Recognition of failure to function; individuals may not recognise that they are failing to function adequately. Suggest that the definition is not immediately obvious and so is likely to be left to others to make their own subjective judgements.