Individual differences pack 1

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Ikra Amin
  • Created on: 16-04-14 19:20

Deviation from social norms (DFSN) definition

Social norms are ACCEPTABLE or EXPECTED PATTERNS OF BEHAVIOUR. These social norms are set up by the social group and adhered to by those socialised into that group. Examples in western culture would include sitting quietly in a doctor’s surgery or showing sadness at a funeral.  According to this definition, abnormality is deviation or a violation of acceptable patterns of behaviour or social norms.  A person with schizophrenia may laugh at a funeral which would be considered emotionally inappropriate and an unacceptable form of behaviour. 

Abnormal is when someonee is removed from the social norm

Basically if anyone behaves in a way that is socially deviant and violates the set norms of behaviour is regarded as abnormal. 

1 of 60

Strengths of DFSN (evaluation)

  • It’s useful - One advantage of this definition is that it can be a practical way to identify mental problems as the behaviour “stands out” as it were.



  • Aids social interaction - This definition may be limited but it is not entirely irrelevant - most people derive much of their pleasure from interactions with one another.  As a result, most people find it important for a contented existence to avoid behaving in socially deviant ways that bemuse or upset others.  
2 of 60

Weaknesses of DFSN (evaluation)

  • Not all behaviour that deviates from a social norms indicates a psychological abnormality – Deviation or violation from social norms may not necessarily indicate that someone is abnormal.  
  • Social deviance is defined by the context in which it occurs - Making judgments on deviance is often related to the context of a behaviour. For example, a person wearing a bikini on the beach is normal but not in a classroom. More specifically, attempts to define abnormality in terms of social norms are influenced by cultural factors (cultural realism) because the social norms themselves are defined by that culture. What this means is that the same person may be diagnosed differently by a psychologist/psychiatrist in 2 diff cultures. So diagnoses that should be objective and un biased are not. 
  • Definitions change over time (they are historically dependent) - One difficulty with the concept of DFSN is that it varies as times change. What is socially acceptable now may not have been 50 years ago.  Take the example of homosexuality; this was classified as a “mental disorder” and was in the DSM (Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) until 1973.  When it was removed, large numbers of people were “cured” in an instant.  
  • Minorities are seen as mentally ill but they're not - just because they disagree with the norm. 
3 of 60

Failure to function adequately (FFA) definition

This definition of abnormality focuses on the everyday behaviour of an individual. Conventionally, we wake up, get dressed, go to work and maintain relationships with others.  When someone deviates from their normal pattern of behaviour we might argue that they are “failing to function adequately”.  For example a person with severe depression may fail to get up in the morning, let alone hold down a job.  This condition is likely to affect their relationships and family life. Indeed, the agoraphobic afraid to leave the house, or the schizophrenic with paranoid delusions that make them avoid their family are both failing to function adequately.

 Abnormal is when someone has a number of classic symptoms of mental illness.

People are regarded as abnormal if their behaviour causes significant stress, or if the behaviour causes a distruption to everyday stuff (e.g. jobs)

4 of 60

Rosenhan and Seligman (1989)

Rosenhan and Seligman (1989) have suggested that the most suitable approach to defining abnormality may be to identify a set of 7 features of abnormal behaviour. Each of them by themselves may not be sufficient to cause a problem, however when several are present then they are symptomatic of abnormality.  The fewer features that are displayed, the more an individual can be considered as normal. 

  •  Suffering - most abnormal individuals report that they are suffering in some way. E.g OCD may suffer as they do things that could harm them - wash hands so much they bleed.
  • Observer discomfort - most abnormal individuals who see the unspoken rules of social behaviour being broken by others they often experience discomfort. E.g. when people eat without washing their hands the way an OCD sufferer would.
  • Unpredictability - abnormal behaviour is often very variable, uncontrolled and inappropriate. So someone with OCD will experience the uncontrollable, inappropriate urge (compulsion) to wash their hands about 30 times even if they're clean.
  • Irrationality - A common feature of abnormality is that it isn't logical why anyone would choose to behave in that way. A person with OCD is clearly not freely choosing to for eg wash their hands so many times, they can't help it. They don't realise they're doing it.
5 of 60

Rosenhan and Seligman (1989)

  • Maladaptiveness - maladaptive behaviour prevents an individual from achieving major goals, such as enjoying good relationships with other people or working effectively. OCD sufferers often struggle to maintain happy relationships and they may find it hard to complete college course as they have rituals. They frustrate people a lot.
  • Vividness and unconventionality of behaviour - the ways in which abnormal people behave varies substantially from how most people behave and as a result can be described as 'vivid' (it stands out) a normal person washes their hands several times a day when they have the need to in order to be clean; OCD sufferers may behave unconventially in terms of hand washing by washing them loads of times for no reason.
  • Violation of moral and ideal standards - behaviour may be judged to be abnormal when it violates (breaks down) established moral standards. In the case of someone with OCD, they may put their obsessive behaviours before other expected behaviours by lying about their behaviour or neglecting their children by firstly doing something like letting their children go hungry and wait for food until they have completed their rituals (washing their hands so many times)
6 of 60

Strengths of FFA (evaluation)

  • It’s useful – it is relatively easy to assess the consequences of abnormal behaviour (e.g. absenteeism from work or inadequate work performance)


  • It takes into account a person’s subjective experience - the failure to function adequately model does have the advantage that it recognises the subjective experience of the individual BUT inevitably such judgments are made by others and are influenced by social and cultural beliefs and biases.  
7 of 60

Weaknesses of FFA (evaluation)

  • Like the DSN , abnormality is defined by the context in which it occurs - Behaviour that looks like FFA may represent normal behaviour depending on the context.  For example, some political prisoners may go on a hunger strike as part of a protest.  Although starving yourself is technically unpredictable, irrational and maladaptive, this example of FFA is perhaps understandable in this particular context. 
  • Like the DSN, there is a cultural dimension to FFA. - Standard patterns of behaviour will vary from culture to culture, so failing to function adequately may look very different depending on what culture you are in.
  • FFA may simply not be linked to a Psychological Disorder - Holding down a job and supporting a family may be impossible due to economic conditions. E.g. immigrants.
  • Psychological disorders may not prevent a person from functioning adequately - Some people can still maintain jobs, relationships etc even if they have a serious mental health problem (although this would be quite rare. some people with Schizophrenia can still hold down jobs with appropriate medication) 
  • Most people who experience disorders are unaware of their FFA - E.g. schizophrenics
  • Abnormality is not always accompanied by dysfunction. - E.g. psycho's have known to kill but still live a 'normal' life.

8 of 60

Deviation from Ideal Mental Health (DIMH) definiti

Marie Jahoda (1958) pointed out that we define physical illness in part by looking at the absence of signs of physical health.  Physical health is indicated by having correct body temperature, blood pressure etc, so the absence of these indicates illness.  Why not do the same for mental health? Jahoda’s definition stands out by not defining abnormality directly, but instead attempting to define a state of ideal mental health.  This model proposes that the absence of the following criteria indicates abnormality and potentially a mental disorder.

 Abnormal is when someone LACKS signs of being mentally healthy.

Anything that strays away from these characteristics is abnormal.

9 of 60

An absence of...

Positive view of the self  – having high self esteem and a strong sense of identity, i.e. being able to accept yourself as you really are and having a fairly high regard for yourself. 

Personal growth and self actualisation  – the extent to which an individual develops their full potential. The more a person does this the greater their social wellbeing. 

Integration  – the ability to cope with stressful situations

Autonomy - being independent and self-regulating.  An autonomous person is able to act independently make their own decisions and find satisfaction from within themselves  

Accurate perception of reality  – seeing the world as it really is

Mastery of the environment - including the ability to love and form close, warm fulfilling relationships, function at work and in interpersonal relations, adjust to new situations and solve problems.  I.e. affectively meeting the demands of situations and being sufficiently flexible to adapt to changing circumstances.  

10 of 60

Strengths of DIMH (evaluation)

It’s positive – it seeks to identify the characteristics that people need in order to be mentally or psychologically healthy rather than identifying the problems.  As a result these 6 categories she identified could be translated into useful therapeutic aims  (treatment goals).

11 of 60

Weaknesses of DIMH (evaluation)

Who can achieve all these criteria? This list of criteria tends to represent a collection of ideal standards.  Most people would fall short of these standards and therefore would be considered as abnormal.

Jahoda’s view of mental health is cultural bound – Many, if not all the criteria of this definition are culture-bound.  If we apply these criteria to people from non-Western or even non-middle-class social groups we will probably find a greater incidence of abnormality.  For example, the criterion of self actualisation (reaching one’s full potential) is relevant to individualist cultures but not collectivist cultures where individuals strive for the greater good of the community rather than self centred goals. 

Jahoda’s ideals can be seen as value judgements – judgements based on beliefs about what is desirable and undesirable.  Who is to say that close relationships with others are as sign of psychological well-being?  Can’t someone who keeps themselves to themselves live a happy and fulfilled life?  Many of the elements for optimal living reflect not only Western culture but also Western values. 

Is mental health the same as physical health? – doctors use signs of health as a means of detecting physical illness, but they also look for signs of illness such as fever or pain.  Can mental illness be detected in the same way?  In general, physical illnesses have a physical cause such as a viral or bacterial infection, and this makes them relatively easy to diagnose.  It is possible that some mental illnesses also have a physical cause (e.g. substance abuse can cause abnormal behaviour) but many do not.  They are consequences of life experiences.  Therefore it is unlikely that we could diagnose mental abnormality in the same way we diagnose physical abnormality.

12 of 60

Overall conclusion

  • Abnormality is an imprecise concept
  • Abnormal behaviour can take different forms and can involve different features
  • Clearly, no one definition of abnormality on its own is adequate. Behaviours that are classified as being mental disorders will not necessarily reflect all these various definitions, but may only reflect one or a combination of these definitions.  A truly adequate understanding of abnormality can only be achieved through a multiple perspective/definition approach.  
13 of 60

Explaining abnormality - approaches

Models of abnormality fall into two main groups. 

      the biological or medical model which sees abnormality as the result of some underlying physical problem, such as a dysfunction of the brain or nervous system; or

      psychological models which see abnormality arising from psychological problems caused by a person’s thoughts, needs and experiences.


14 of 60

Approach 1-The Biomedical(Medical/Biomedical) appr

The biological approach is favoured by medicine and psychiatry - in essence, this model states, “abnormal behaviours result from physical problems and should be treated medically”.  In other words mental disorders are illnesses with a physical cause so we should approach mental disorders from the perspective of medicine.

 The biological approach classifies mental disorders - this means people within the approach use one of several established classification systems to interpret abnormal behaviours and diagnose a mental illness. Psychiatrists use these systems to prevent mis diagnosis and it also allows reliability.The main systems used are the DSM-V (updated from DSM-IV last year) & ICD-10.

DSM-V (Diagnostic & Stastical Manual): 

  • Comes from USA. - Used widely across the globe.
  • They try use the symptoms on this to classify/diagnose.
  • It's holistic - diagnoses but allows psychiatrist to see the social implications.

ICD-10 (International Classification of Disease):

  • UK/European
  • Narrow - more symptom based not social implications.
15 of 60

Biomedical approach

There are four kinds of medical explanation that have been used to explain the cause of abnormality.


Ø  Infection - exposure to certain bacteria/virus makes people unwell

Ø  Genetic factors - e.g. bipolar

Ø  Biochemistry - Imbalance of neurotransmitters

Ø  Neuroanatomy - Brain damage



16 of 60

1. Infection

Germs or micro-organisms such as bacteria or viruses are known to produce disease state, e.g. measles and the flu. Some mental illnesses have also been linked to known micro-organisms.  For example, Barr et al (1990) noted that there was an increase incidence of schizophrenia in children whose mothers had flu when they were pregnant. This may suggest that the cause of the disorder could be linked to this disease.

17 of 60

2. Genetic factors

According to this model, the presence of certain genes can predispose people to some psychological disorders.  Four types of studies have provided evidence to support this view.

1) Family studies

  • This is when the family tree of a person with a psychological disorder is traced to see if the disorder “runs in the family”.  For example, Weissman (1987) found that a person is ten times more likely to suffer from a mood disorder such as depression if a parent or sibling has a similar disorder.

    Problems with this: The olden times were different and a disorder then could be due to lifestyle factors.


18 of 60

2. Genetic factors

2) Twin studies

  • These studies investigate how likely it is that pairs of twins share the same disorder.  

  • They compare identical (monozygotic - MZ) twins who have the same genes and fraternal (dizygotic - DZ) who share around 50% of their genes. 

  • For any given disorder the key measure is the concordance rate; this is the likelihood that if one twin has the disorder then the other twin also has it. 

  • Therefore if genetics are a factor in psychological disorders, the concordance rate should be higher in identical than in fraternal twins. This is what has been found in several disorders (especially schizophrenia).  

  • For example, Gottesman (91) summarised the findings from approximately 40 twin studies on schizophrenia and found the concordance rate was 48% for MZ twins but only 17% for DZ twins.  Additionally, McGuffin et al (96) found that the concordance rate for major depression was 46% for MZ twins and 20% for DZ twins.  

Problems with twin studies: each twin is diff, underestimated nature/nurture.concordance rates aren't 100%

19 of 60

2. Genetic factors

3) Adoption studies.

These studies compare people who have been adopted with their biological and their adopted parents. 

These studies should, in principal, control for environmental influences since the child has been raised in a different environment away from their parent who has the psychological disorder.  Consequently, if the child goes on to develop a psychological disorder then this provides quite strong evidence in support of a genetic basis to this disorder.  

For example, Teinman (91) compared 155 children who were put up for adoption whose mothers had schizophrenia with another 155 children who were put up for adoption from a non-schizophrenic mother. 
The results showed that 10.3% of children went on to develop schizophrenia if their biological mother had the disorder compared to only 1.1% of children from the mothers who did not have the disorder.  

20 of 60

2. Genetic factors

4) Gene Mapping.

An alternative way to examine genetic influences is to identify particular genes and demonstrate they are more likely to be present in individuals with a disorder then without.  For example Berrettini (2000) linked bipolar disorder (a disorder with depressive and manic episodes) to genes on chromosomes 4, 6, 11, 12, 13, 15, 18 and 22.   

21 of 60

3. Biochemistry

5) Biochemistry.

  • A further explanation for abnormality may lie in the patient’s biochemistry. That is, a psychological disorder may result from an imbalance of chemicals in the nervous system.
  • For example, schizophrenia has been linked with an excessive amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine.Additional evidence comes from drug studies.
  • For example, it has been suggested that depression is associated with low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.Prozac, a well-known drug that increases serotonin has been found to significantly alleviate the symptoms of depression.Such findings are consistent with the hypothesis that abnormal levels of serotonin play a causal role in developing depression.

Problem: People may react differently to certain drugs.

22 of 60

4. Neuroanatomy


The final explanation may be a result of neuroanatomy - the structure and function of the nervous system. 

For example, studies comparing images of the brain (as with a PET scan) have demonstrated that the brains of people with schizophrenia differ from those of normal individuals.  For example, Lawrie and Abukmeil (98) reviewed 40 brain-imagining studies and found that on average schizophrenic patients had a smaller brain volume than normals, but the lateral ventricles ere about 40% large in people with schizophrenia. 

23 of 60

Main assumptions of biological approach

  • All mental disorders have a physical cause (e.g. infection, genetics, biochemistry or neuroanatomy)
  • Mental illness can be described in terms of clusters of symptoms
  • Symptoms can be identified, leading to the diagnosis of an illness
  • Diagnosis leads to appropriate physical treatments e.g. drugs
24 of 60

Evaluation of biological approach to psychopatholo

Greater understanding (good)

In recent years, rapid advances in biochemistry and genetics have increased our understanding of the biological aspects of psychological disorders; however our understanding is far from complete. 

 Inconclusive evidence (bad)

To what extent does neurotransmitter activity cause disorders?  What contribution do genes make to the onset of psychological disorders such as depression?  We really don’t know.  For example, many genes may contribute to certain disorders, each having only a relatively small effect. 

 Reductionism (bad)

Can psychological disorders be “reduced” down to biological factors alone?  One could argue that its focus is too narrow as it ignores the impact that social factors (e.g. severe life events, inadequate social support) and psychological factors (e.g. distorted beliefs about the world).  The Diathesis-stress model proposes that an abnormality results from an interaction between both biological and environmental factors.   

25 of 60

Evaluation cont..

The classification system (bad)

The classification system categorising psychological disorders with physiological causes, has been criticised for not being objective or scientific. For example there are frequent and sudden changes in classification systems which include the appearance of new disorders, the reclassification of existing disorders and the removal of other disorders (e.g. homosexuality). 

 Some research has also shown that the classification system can lack validity and reliability. 

Treatment (bad/good)

Many of the suggested treatments from the biological approach aim to change bodily functions and alter biochemical levels predominately through the use of drug treatment. There's problems associated with this such as:

  • People react differently
  • Not all drugs benefit people
  • Harmful side effects

Psychologists agree drugs alone don't provide a long term solution. But psychiatrists argue that drugs can have a positive effects and help place patients in a better from of mind to help overcome the disorder.

26 of 60

Other ethical implications?

  • People who support the medical model assume that it is more humane than other models as it portrays mental health problems as resulting from an illness.  
  • This means that the person is not to blame for their disorder.  
  • This is in contrast to other models that imply that people cannot cope with life or have brought their disorders upon themselves. 
  • However according to critics such as Szasz (1960), to regard mental health in the same way as physical health is undesirable ethically, since it stops people accepting responsibility for themselves and for their own lives. Indeed, it may encourage the patient to depend solely on a doctor for their own recovery.  
27 of 60

Approach 2-Psychodynamic approach

Psychodynamic-mind is a dynamic thing (complex,made up of diff elements)

The Psychodynamic model of abnormality was the first major challenge to the dominance of the biological model. 

Freud practised as a psychiatrist in Vienna and collected a lot of information from his patients (females) about their feelings and experiences, especially those relating from early childhood.  He developed his ideas into a theory (psychodynamic theory) and a form of therapy (psychoanalysis).

When treating his patients, Freud realised that some had symptoms which could not be explained by reference to physical cause (known as hysteria or hysterical illnesses). In order to understand this more clearly he began studying psychology rather than physiology. He found that many patients suffering from hysteria had something troubling them which they had repressed, such as a painful memory and once they had confronted their memory, the symptoms seemed to disappear. This was the basis of his psychoanalytic process. 

28 of 60

Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality

The psychoanalytical approach was developed from the theories of Sigmund Freud who proposed an account of human mental activity which relied heavily on the notion of an unconscious mind. 

Freud believed that the mind has three parts: one which we are consciously aware of; another called the preconscious mind (not instantly aware of but can be accessed) and the unconscious mind which is believed to contain disturbing thoughts and memories which have been repressed. According to Freud, personality is greatly influenced by an unconscious mind which harbours these repressed memories which determine conscious thoughts and behaviour. 

Freud’s therapeutic work led to the development of a comprehensive theory of personality and child development which focused largely on the emotional aspects of human functioning. 

Freud believed that we are born with a number of instinctual drives which regulate and motivate behaviour even in childhood.  The source of these drives is psychic energy and the most powerful of these is the libido which is sexual in nature

Freud emphasised the role of childhood in emotional and personality development. 

29 of 60


The personality consists of three major structures: the id; the ego and the superego

The ID – This is the part of unconscious and is the source of instinctual psychic energy we are born with. The most important element of this energy is the libido or life instinct, but this energy may also be directed into aggression. The ID operates on the ‘pleasure principle’, as we strive for lots of pleasure and aim to avoid anythingnasty. The ‘id’ consists of primitive desires and primeval urges which contain no logical or rational thought.


  • selfish
  • instinct "the animal in you" like babies


30 of 60


The EGO (like internalised parent)– represents our conscious self and operates on the ‘reality principle’.  It develops during early childhood as we begin to realise that we can’t always get what we want and we instead work out ways of getting what we want.  This may involve waiting for an appropriate moment.  It also tries to balance the demands of the ID for self gratification with the moral rules imposed by the superego or conscience.

The SUPEREGO –operates according to the “morality principal”.  It develops later in childhood through identification with one or another parent, at which point the child internalises the moral norms and rules of society.

Supergo: Keeps balance between ID + Ego. Tells you from right to wrong.

  • Conscious mind like tip of iceberg.
  • Unconscious mind is below the surface and is driven by unconscious motives.
  • Abnormal behaviour is a result of unresolved conflicts from childhood which resides in the unsoncious mind.

Dynamic equilibrium - When 3 components are all in a state of balance. When they're not it could lead to abnormality/problems.

31 of 60


If the ego fails to balance the demands of the id and superego, conflicts may arise and psychological disorders may result.  If the id is dominant this could lead to destructive tendencies, unrestrained pleasurable acts and uninhibited sexual behaviour.  If the superego dominates, the individual may be unable to experience any form of pleasurable gratification.

As the id is present from birth while the ego and superego develop through early childhood conflicts are particularly likely to occur at this time as the ego is underdeveloped, hence Freud’s focus on childhood as the source of adult disorders. It is also important to remember that we are not consciously aware of these conflicts!! 

32 of 60

Ego Defence Mechanisms

One important consequence of this "intra-psychic" conflict between the ID, Ego and Supergo is anxiety (which is a threat to us). In order to protect ourselves against this, the ego uses defence mechanisms to help maintain the balance between the id and superego. Mechanisms:

  • Denial (deny prob exists) - Arguing against an anxiety provoking stimuli by stating it doesn't exist. E.g. alcoholics,drug abusers.
  • Displacement - taking out impulses on a less threatning target (target that won't retaliate). E.g. slam a door, shout at child.
  • Projection (something bad about you put onto someone else) - Placing unaccpetable impulses in yourself onto someone else. E.g. criticise someone for being promiscuous.
  • Regression (pushing away) - Pulling into the unconscious. E.g. going to a funeral but then having no memory of it.
  • Sublimation - Acting out unaccpetable impulses in a socially acceptable way. E.g. rather than slapping someone you join a boxing club. Debating club rather than arguing.

 One of the aims of psychodynamic therapy is to consider the patients’ use of defence mechanisms in order to gain insight into the underlying conflicts. These defence mechanisms are used to protect against anxiety however if they are unsuccessful such anxiety may manifest itself though clinical disorders such as phobias and generalised anxiety. 

33 of 60

Psychosexual stages of development

A further key principle in Freud’s theory of normal and abnormal behaviour is psychosexual development.  According to the theory the child goes through a series of stages where the instinctive energy of the id looks for gratification from different areas of the body, otherwise known as erogenous zones.  If the developing child is either deprived or over-gratified at a particular stage they may become fixated and this will affect their adult behaviour.  

Oral stage (0 to 15 months)

  • During the oral stage, the infant's primary source of interaction occurs through the mouth, so the rooting and sucking reflex is especially important. The mouth is vital for eating, and the infant derives pleasure from oral stimulation through gratifying activities such as tasting and sucking. The primary conflict at this stage is the weaning process; the child must become less dependent upon caretakers. If fixation occurs at this stage, Freud believed the individual would have issues with dependency or aggression.  Oral fixation can result in problems with drinking, eating, smoking, or nail biting.
34 of 60

Psychosexual stages of development

Anal stage (one-three years)

During the anal stage, Freud believed that the primary focus of the libido was on controlling bladder and bowel movements. The major conflict at this stage is toilet training.  Developing control leads to a sense of accomplishment and independence. 

According to Freud, success at this stage is dependent upon the way in which parents approach toilet training.  Parents who are encouraging help children feel capable and productive.  Freud believed that positive experiences during this stage served as the basis for people to become competent, productive, and creative adults.

However, not all parents provide the support and encouragement that children need during this stage. Some parents instead punish, ridicule, or shame a child for accidents.  According to Freud, inappropriate parental responses can result in negative outcomes. If parents take an approach that is too lenient, Freud suggested that an anal-expulsive personality could develop in which the individual has a messy, wasteful, or destructive personality.  If parents are too strict or begin toilet training too early, Freud believed that an anal-retentive personality develops in which the individual is stringent, orderly, rigid, and obsessive

35 of 60

Psychosexual stages of development

 Phallic stage (three to five years)

During the phallic stage, the primary focus of the libido is on the genitals. Children also discover the differences between males and females.

Freud thought that, during the Phallic stage (approximately between 3 and 6 years old), a boy develops an intense sexual love for his mother, this is known as the Oedipus complex.  Because of this, he sees his father as a rival, and wants to get rid of him.  The father, however, is far bigger and more powerful than the young boy, and so the child develops a fear that, seeing him as a rival, his father will castrate him.  Because it is impossible to live with the continual castration-threat anxiety provided by this conflict, the young boy develops a mechanism for coping with it, using a defence mechanism known as 'identification with the aggressor'.  He stresses all the ways that he is similar to his father, adopting his father's attitudes, mannerisms and actions, feeling that if his father sees him as similar, he will not feel hostile towards him.

The term Electra complex has been used to describe a similar set of feelings experienced by young girls.  Freud also believed that girls experience penis envy when they realise the difference between boys and girls.

Eventually, child begins to identify with the same sex parent. For girls, however, Freud believed that penis envy is never fully resolved and that all women remain somewhat fixated on this stage. Feminist critics say men experience feelings of inferiority because they can't give birth.

36 of 60

Psychosexual stages of development

Latent stage (around five years to puberty)

During the latent period, the libido interests are suppressed. The development of the ego and superego contribute to this period of calm. The stage begins around the time that children enter into school and become more concerned with peer relationships, hobbies, and other interests. 

The latent period is a time of exploration in which the sexual energy is still present, but it is directing into other areas such as intellectual pursuits and social interactions. This stage is important in the development of social and communication skills and self-confidence.

37 of 60

Psychosexual stages of development

Genital stage (puberty onwards)

 During the final stage of psychosexual development, the individual develops a strong sexual interest in members of the opposite sex outside the family.  If the other stages have been completed successfully, the individual should now be well-balanced, warm, and caring. The goal of this stage is to establish a balance between the various life areas.

As well as being unpopular with feminists, Freud has been criticised by many for being homophobic in his belief that 'normal' development leads to us becoming attracted to the opposite sex, hence if we are attracted to the same sex we are abnormal. However, supporters of Freud argue that it's impossible to fully appreciate his ideas unless they are considered within the historical/political/social context in which they were formulated.

38 of 60

Psychosexual stages of development


Age Range

Erogenous zone(s)

Consequences of Fixation


0-18 months


Oral fixation:

Passive dependence or excessive smoking/eating/kissing


18-36 months

Bowel and bladder elimination


Obsession with organization or excessive neatness
Reckless, careless, defiant, disorganized,


3-6 years


Oedipus complex (in boys only according to Freud)

Electra complex (in girls according to Jung not Freud)


6 years-puberty

Dormant sexual feelings

(People do not tend to fixate at this stage, but if they do, they tend to be extremely sexually unfulfilled.)


Puberty and beyond

Sexual interests mature

Frigidity, impotence, unsatisfactory relationships

39 of 60

Main assumptions of psychodynamic approach

·         Much of our behaviour is driven by unconscious motives;

·         Personality is influenced by the subconscious mind;

·         Childhood is a critical period in development;

·         Children develop through a number of stages;

·         Mental disorders arise from unresolved, unconscious conflicts originating in childhood;

·         Resolution occurs through accessing and coming to terms with repressed ideas and conflicts.

40 of 60

Evaluation of psychodynamic approach (strengths)

It considers psychological factors which may cause abnormal behaviour Unlike the medical model and the behaviourist perspective (see later) this was the 1st model that focused on psychological factors as the cause of abnormality and on psychological forms of treatment. Although it is difficult to scientifically verify the workings of the unconscious mind – it is useful as it takes into account a person’s subjective feelings and experiences.

 There is evidence that trauma in children can result in abnormal behaviour

For example lots of studies have linked childhood abuse to abnormal behaviour in later life. Repression of such traumatic experiences may lead to adulthood depression and anxiety (Caspi et al 96, Kendler et al 96).  Again, sexual abuse has been linked with eating disorders. 

41 of 60

Evaluation of psychodynamic approach (limitations)

Lack of interest in current problems - Even if childhood is important, current problems should also be considered when trying to establish a cause for a psychological problem, however, Freud was relatively uninterested in this. 

 His theory was not based on any solid scientific research - Abstract concepts such as the id, ego, superego and unconscious are difficult to define and research; as such there is very limited support for these key components.

 Ethical implications - One of the main implications of this model is that individuals are not responsible for their mental disorders.  However since childhood is critically important the parent/caregiver is at least partly to blame. This can cause considerable distress if they are led to believe that they are responsible for their child’s mental health problems.

Limited scope in explaining and treating a range of disorders - It is really only useful in explaining and treating anxiety disorders or depression.  It cannot really explain/treat people suffering from more severe disorders such as such as schizophrenia

It’s reductionist - It ignores the possible influence of biological contributions to mental health problems.E.g. depression may have chemical basis or it may be genetic.


42 of 60

Approach 3-Behavioural approach

This model was developed out of the behaviourist approach to psychology developed by John Watson and Fred Skinner.

According to this model, individuals with abnormal behaviour have learnt to behave in this way. Most of the learning is a result of classical or operant conditioning.  

43 of 60

Behaviourial approach

Classical Conditioning (learning through association)

  • This is a basic form of learning first demonstrated by Pavlov (1902) and is concerned with learning through association, and refers to the conditioning of reflexes
  • Through general observations he knew that presenting food to a hungry dog would result in salivation.  Sometimes the dogs would start salivating before the food had reached their mouths, often at the sight of just the food bucket.  Clearly the dogs had learnt what?
  • In a series of experiments, Pavlov found many new stimuli (such as bells) could be associated with these reflexes and went on to introduce special terms for, and investigated many aspects of, the conditioning process.  

E.g. Pavlov and his dog.

1) Before conditioning. Food (UCS) & Salivation (UCR)

 2) During conditioning. Bell (CS) & Food (UCS) & Salivation (UCR)

3)After conditioning. Bell (CS) & NO FOOD & Salivation (CR) 

44 of 60

Behaviourism and abnormal behaviour

Watson and Raynor (1920) demonstrated in their classic study that a phobia could be classically conditioned in the same way as any other response.

  • "Little Albert" a 9 month old infant who was tested on his reactions to various stimuli.
  • He was shown a white rat, a rabbit a monkey & various masks. Albert showed no fear to these stimuli. 
  • However, he got scared when a loud noise of a hammer hitting a steel bar behind his head. The sudden loud noise would cause him to burst into tears. 
  • When Albert was just over 11 months old the white rat was presented and seconds later the hammer struck against the bar. 
  • This was done 7 times over the next 7 weeks and each time he burst into tears. 
  • By now he only had to see the rat and showed every sign of fear. He would cry whether the hammer was hit against the bar or not and attempt to crawl away.
  • He also become afraid of other white fluffy objects like a rabbit, white dog etc. 

Phobias learnt through 1 trial learning - E.g. eating nasty food just once an not again. 

45 of 60

Behavioural approach

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning, sometimes called instrumental conditioning, is learning through the consequences of actions. There are three main consequences that behaviourists identify:

      If we do something and it has a pleasant consequence, we are more likely to produce that behaviour again. The pleasant consequence is a positive reinforcer.  Almost anything can be a reinforcer.

      If we do something and it has a negative consequence (punishment), we will be less likely to produce that behaviour again.

      If we do something and it stops or prevents an unpleasant consequence such as pain or being shouted out, this is a negative reinforcer.

 Reinforcers (postitive and negative) make behaviour more likely whereas punishment makes it less likely.

46 of 60

Operant conditioning

Skinner (1938) described teaching rats how to press levers to gain food and explained how he would allow the release of a food pellet every time the rat approached the lever.

  • The following time the rat would have to get a little bit closer in order for a food pellet. This would continue until finally the rat had to press the lever itself (which may have been by chance). 
  • Eventually the rat would begin to associate the pressing of the level with the dispensing food pellet, therefore illustrating the effect of positive reinforcement. 
  • It is difficult to explain the origins of an abnormal behaviour with this particular type of conditioning;
  • However it is plausible to suggest that a psychological disorder will be produced when a maladaptive behaviour is rewarded.  
  • For example if a child finds that he/she gets more attention from parents if they have a panic attack, these attacks might become more frequent and thus this behaviour continues.  
47 of 60

Social Learning Theory (SLT)

In addition, neo-behaviourists such as Bandura (65) identified another form of learning, observational learning or modelling.

  • Here a person learns a particular response simply by observing someone else and then copying that behaviour. The implication of modelling is that children learn from watching the behaviour of those around them, even when they themselves are not being directly reinforced. 
  • Many people can act as role models for children. Crucial role models can include parents, teachers, peers and siblings. 
  • SLT can explain how a phobia might develop.  For example, you might have a fear of wasps - this may in part be due to a parent reacting very dramatically to one. After you have observed this reaction a number of times, you then imitate it when you see a wasp. 
  • There is some evidence to support how SLT may lead to abnormal behaviour. For example, Mineka at al (84) found that monkeys could develop a snake phobia simply by watching another monkey experience fear in the presence of a snake. 
  • Additionally, Rosenthal (66) found that after participants had viewed someone several times pretending to be in pain after they heard a buzzer (by twitching, shouting etc) also demonstrated a fear reaction when they then heard the buzzer. 
48 of 60

Main features of behaviourist approach

  • All behaviour is learnt- abnormal behaviour is no different
  • The same basic laws that explain animal behaviour can also explain human behaviour
  • This learning can be understood in terms of the principals of conditioning (Classical and operant) and SLT. we learn (abnormal) behaviours through these processes
  • What can be learnt can be unlearnt using the same principals

  • There is no role for biology or any internal thoughts or feelings in explaining behaviour     
49 of 60

Evaluation of behaviourist approach (Strengths)

Treatments are effective - As we will see in the next section; treatments based on this approach (e.g. systematic desensitisation) are very effective, especially in treating disorders such as phobias.  

Ethical implications – This model has some advantages from an ethical perspective.  For example, the focus on each individual’s experience and conditioning history means that this model is sensitive to cultural and social factors.  Additionally, as abnormal behaviour is a consequence of environmental factors means that the individual is not held responsible for their problems.  Furthermore, some forms of therapy based on this approach are highly controversial (e.g. aversion therapy). 

50 of 60

Evaluation of behaviourist approach (weaknesses)

Can classical conditioning explain phobias?  There is little evidence to support the relationship between classical conditioning and phobias.  For example, Davison at el (2004) could not replicate the findings of “little Albert” when they attempted to condition people to fear neutral stimuli by pairing it with an unpleasant one. Additionally we would have to assume that if classical conditioning could explain phobias then people must have an unpleasant/traumatic experience with the phobic stimulus, however research does not support this claim.

 It’s reductionist - This approach explains behaviour in terms of relatively simple learning principles.  It ignores cognitive and emotional contributions to abnormal behaviour.  It also assumes that all behaviour is developed through learning experiences (nurture) and does not look at possible biological contributions (nature).  This is particularly problematic as behaviourism as little value in explaining something like schizophrenia in which genetic factors seem to play a major role.

 The use of animals - Research based on animal learning so the approach might not be able to explain human learning in the same way. Humans are different to animals. 

51 of 60

Approach 4- Cognitive approach

The cognitive model assumes that thinking, expectations and attitudes (i.e. cognitions) direct behaviour.  Abnormal behaviour therefore is a consequence of inappropriate / faulty thinking or cognitive biases.  The focus is not on the problem itself but the way a person thinks about it.   Faulty or irrational thinking prevent a person from behaving adaptively.  Distortions in the way we process information have been associated with disorders such as depression and anxiety.

 Common irrational assumptions

All cognitive therapists believe that disorders result from faulty thinking.  Meichenbaum (77) called the products of this faulty thinking “counterproductive self statements”.  Beck (76) called them dysfunctional “automatic thoughts” and Ellis (62) describes them as “irrational” assumptions.  For example;

  • It is necessary to be loved or approved by every significant other
  • One should be thoroughly competent, adequate and achieving is one is to consider oneself worthwhile.
  • It’s awful when things are not the way I would like them to be.


52 of 60

Cognitive approach

An individual who holds such beliefs is bound to be disappointed or at worse depressed.  For example, an individual may fail an exam and become very depressed about it, not because they failed but because they hold the irrational belief that people will think that they are stupid. These negative schemata (our core beliefs about how view, understand and interpret the world) when activated lead to negative automatic thoughts (or NAT’s) which are unconscious and rapid responses to certain situations but are very often misplaced and very inaccurate.    

53 of 60

Cognitive approach

Cognitive biases that may be used by depressed people

Cognitive Bias

Explanation and examples


The bias towards minimising success in life.  Eg attributing good exam results to luck.


Maximising the importance of trivial failures. Thinking you’re stupid if you fail to complete a Sudoku.

Selective Abstraction

Focusing on only the negative side of life and ignoring the wider picture.

All or nothing thinking

A tendency to see life in terms of black and white and ignoring the middle ground; you are a success or a failure rather than good at some things but not so good at others.

54 of 60

Cognitive approach

Evidence to support the notion that individuals with depression and anxiety have negative thoughts comes from Newmark et al (73)

who found that 65% of anxious clients (but only 2% of normals) agreed with the following statement “it is essential that one be loved or approved by virtually everyone in your community”

 80% agreed with “one must be perfectly competent, adequate, and achieving to consider oneself worthwhile” compared to 25% of normals.

55 of 60

Beck's Cognitive Triad

One of the clearest examples of the cognitive approach to understanding abnormality is Aaron Beck’s (1979) model of depression.  This involves three negative schemata which Beck refers to as the “negative triad”  :

         Negative view of the self (I am incompetent and undeserving)

         Negative view of the world (it is a hostile place)

         Negative view of the future (Problems will not disappear. I will always be useless.)

These negative schemata can be seen in the attributions depressed people make i.e. their explanations of why things happen.

         Attributions can be internal ‘It’s all my fault’ or external.

         Attributions can be specific or global ( i.e. to one particular event or to all events)

         Attributions can be stable or unstable (they attributions may change depending on the situation or stay the same in all situations.)

56 of 60

Elli's ABC model

Ellis’s ABC model - This model is similar to Beck’s approach in that cognitive biases influence how we se the world.  Ellis suggested that (A) an activating event which is affected by (B) and individual’s beliefs which results in (C) a consequence. If beliefs are subject to cognitive biases (in the same way as Becks) then they can cause irrational thinking which may produce undesirable behaviours.

A (activating event) - Redundancy (lose job)

B (the belief) which may be rational - There's a recession, everyone's losing their job I'll find another or irrational - They got rid of me because I'm useless. Loss of motivation.

C (the consequence) – rational beliefs lead to healthy emotions (try find another job) whereas irrational beliefs lead you unhealthy emotions (Don't try find a job again, loss of motivation)

As you can see if someone has an irrational belief about the activating event this will lead to unhealthy emotions and/or behaviour.  

57 of 60

Main features of Cognitive approach

  • Maladaptive behaviour is caused by faulty and irrational cognitions
  • It is the way you think about a problem rather than the problem itself that causes the mental health issue
  • Individuals can overcome mental disorders by learning to use more appropriate thinking processes
  • Aim of therapy is to be positive and rational - the individual in control of their behaviour.
58 of 60

Evaluation of cognitive approach (strengths)

Supportive evidence  There is lots of supportive evidence that those with depression and anxiety do have dysfunctional thinking patterns 


Therapy is effective  Therapy based on changing problematic thinking can be very successful

Focuses on the present - Focuses on current cognitions and problems rather than the past

59 of 60

Evaluation of the cognitive approach (limitations)

Cause or effect?  This approach assumes that distorted thinking causes mental health problems, however is plausible to assume that these thoughts come after the disorder has developed.  What evidence is there to support the casual claim from the cognitive approach?  Lewinsohn et al (2001) identified one group of adolescents who had unrealistic negative thoughts such as “my life is wasted unless I am a success” and “I should be happy all the time”.  When followed up, the group of adolescences with these unrealistic thoughts were significantly more likely to have developed major depression 12 months later compared to those without such thoughts.  Although such evidence is interesting it still does not prove that such thoughts are a casual factor in developing mental health problems. 

It is reductionist - ignores the role of biological or genetic factors in the onset of mental health problems. Behaviour may be abnormal but their thoughts may be rational.

 Depressive realism  Negative thoughts sometimes reflect an accurate view of the world; this is referred to as depressive realism.  In these instances it is life circumstances that need to be targeted rather than any cognitive biases.

Ignores the origin of fault thinking - Doesn't attempt to examine where the faulty thoughts actually came from. E.g. upbringing, media etc.

Ethical implications- this model implies that the individual is responsible for their own faulty thinking, this acceptance may be stressful.  Additionally it may be unfair to “blame” individuals for their mental disorder because those around them may be responsible.  As suggested above - such thoughts may be entirely rational and simply reflect all too accurately a person’s unfortunate circumstances.


60 of 60


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Abnormality resources »