psychology abnormality

the psychology of adnormality

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Deviation from social norms-

behavior considered anti-social or undesirable by the majority. 

There are social norms within society – where standards of acceptable behaviour are set by social groups and are followed by those socialised into that group.


Varies as times change, e.g homosexuality 

Taken out of context- Behavior in one situation may be considered unacceptable in another e.g what is worn to the beach shouldn't be worn to a meeting. However there is not a clear line to define these.

Cultural variations- Different cultures interpret different behaviors differently. example a man who lived on his own in a cave to us may be considered abnormal, whereas in india he would be a holy man.

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Failure to function adequately

one is not abnormal until it interferes with their ability to cope in day to day situations.


Who judges? If it is not the individual, others may not have the knowledge to judge another person who may feel themselves content.

However if it is the individual many are unaware they have a problem e.g many schizophrenics do not see they have a problem. 

 Cultural variations- Different cultures interpret different behaviors differently. 

racism and discrimination 

minority groups may not have the ability to function. For example they might have trouble with unemployment and difficult living conditions may lead to difficulty to function in every day life but does not mean they are abnormal.

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Deviation from ideal mental health

Marie Jahoda- by not ticking all the requirements could indicate mental health issues.

  • Self attitude- high self asteem
  • Integration- coping in stressful situations 
  • Accurate perception of reality 
  • Personal growth - develop to the highest of your capability


According to these criteria many of us are mentally ill to a degree    

Mental health is more complex then physical illnesses and more than physical factors must be looked at e.g life events

Cultural variations- Different cultures interpret different behaviors differently. example eastern cultures your own wishes come second to those of their family.

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Biological approach to psychology

All mental disorders are related to changes within the body. Mental illness are treated as a physical disorder. Therefore the only way to treat a patient is to return the patient back to their normal physical state.

genetic inheritance, neuroanatomy, biochemistry, and viral infection

Teuting et al examined the samples of depressed patients and found chemicals that suggested low levels of serotonin and noradrenaline. 

Genetic interitance- studying twins to see if both got the same mental illnesses, McGuffin  found that in identical twins 40% eithier had depression or didnt compared to 11% of non identical twins .

Wender- found that the biological parents of an adoptive child who suffers from depression are 7 times more likely to suffer from depression too compared to the adopted parents of the child.

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Genes- Mutates create too little or too much seroton can cause depression if to little and anxiety if too much.  

Viral infections- research suggests some disorders such as schizophrenia may be a result of exposure to infections while in the womb.

Torrey- found many women who contracted the influenza virus during pregnancy had children who went on to develop schizophrenia 

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Thomas Szasz argued mental health is not like physical health and can not be diagnosed in the same way just by exsterenal factors and not taking in other factors such as life events.

Not all depressed patients have low levels of serotonine. 

Kirsan found that in 38 studies placebos had the same effect as the real drug.

McGuffin found that in identical twins 40% eithier had depression or didnt compared to 11% of non identical twins- however we should expect this to be around 100%


evidence to support

takes the blame of the patient so they may not be ashamed to seek help.

Effective Kahn found anti-anxiety drugs to be Superior to a placebo in 250 trials

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psychodynamic approach

The approach suggests that abnormality is caused by one of three factors: unresolved conflicts, unconcious motivations, and early experiences.

Unresolved conflicts- This is a conflict between the ID,EGO AND SUPER EGO. Defence mechanisms are used to defend the brain from these conflicts- however if over used they can cause harm,

  •  Denial- refusing to accept,
  •  regression- acting like one did in early childhood
  • displacement- redirecting feelings to an easier target

Unconcious motivates- This is where unconcious motivations or thoughts fester themselves but without therapy we are not aware of them e.g self sabbotage

eary exsperiences-  Particularly distressing events in childhood may also become part of the unconscious. Although unconscious, they may be expressed in later abnormal behaviours.

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  • unconsious is widely accepted 
  • blame free on patient- more likely to seek help
  • No need for drugs (no side effects)
  • Bergin found that 80% of 100,000 pateints benefitted with psychodynamic therapies


  • can not be scienctifically tested 
  • only focuses on life events in early childhood focusing on the past
  • information is interpreted which means there is a possiblity for misinterrpretation and biased 
  • ignores biological
  • Freud used case studies- low poopulation validity
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behavior is learned through conditioning classical and operate, it can also be unlearned. This model sees that it is a problem not an underlying condition as it tries to reverse irrational behavior.

classical- Pavlov dogs, learning through association 

operate- reward and punishment

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  • Deals with a patients symptoms rather then focusing on the past
  • Research shows treatment can be effective especially for phobias
  • classical and operate conditioning is widely accepted, pavlov dogs
  • Watson + Rayner conditioned 'little albert' to hate the sight of a white rat as he associated it with the loud noise he would hear when he saw it.
  • blame free


  • Ignores any biological factors
  • does not explain all mental disorders such as schizophrenia
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Cognitive model

Abnormality is caused by faulty thinking, this theory focuses on

individual’s thought processes and their behavior

mental illness is the result of inappropriate, disordered thinking.

How we interpreter events can effect how we think about future ones.

Over-generalisation: a conclusion is reached on the basis of one event or incident. E.g failing a test means you’re a failure at life.

Maximisation: maximising failures, e.g failing a puzzle and thinking general stupidity.

Minimisation: minimising successes, putting good grade down to luck.

.  Ellis developed the ABC model to explain how cognitive processes may lead to depression. A stands for the activating event, this can be anything that may provoke some kind of arousal,  B stands for beliefs, this is the persons belief they have about the activating event, that may be irrational and C is for consequence when the person lets their believes effect how they view the activating event. 

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  • Thase et al found that CBT therapy worked better than antidepressants.
  • No need for medication (side effects)
  • doesn't focus on past


  • Blames patient rather then circumstances, they may be unlikely to receive help as they feel ashamed 
  • What comes first unhealthy thoughts then mental health issues or do mental health issues cause unhealthy thoughts
  • Irrational thoughts may infact be rational- some argue that the depressed see things more accurately as happy hormones don't cloud there judgement, this is called the sadder but wiser effect.
  • ignores biological
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Drug therapies

Anti-depressants block neurotransmitters so there is more serotonin in the brain.

Beta blockers binds to the receptors on the heart and brain to lessen to effect of adrenaline and other hormones. Resulting in a reduced heart rate and a calmer person. 

Benzodiazepines- Allow more chloride ions to enter the neutrons which reduces serotonin activity to reduce anxiety

Anti-depressants work by blocking the reabsorption pathways on a neuropath way so serotonin is not reabsorbed too quickly and can do its job by regulating mood. It can also increase activity of serotonin by sending signals to the brain to produce more

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  • Effective Kahn found anti-anxiety drugs to be Superior to a placebo in 250 trials
  • Ease of use
  • availbale


  • Kirsch found placebos were just as effective in 38 trials
  • treats the symptoms rather then the problem
  • possible side effects
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Electroconvulsive therapy

This is when the patient is made unconscious and the doctor transmits an electrical current through the brain to bring on a seizure. The shock often lasts between 0.4-4seconds. The seizure changes brain activity, and although no one is completely sure what it does it has been shown to be effective with treating depression. The patient normally has 2-6 treatments of ECT spread over many weeks to cure their depression.


  • Has been shown to be effective to patients and saved lives
  • 70% of patients after ECT improve mentally 


  • possible side effects of memory loss
  • 30% report permanent fear and anxiety after treatment 
  • barbaric
  • symptoms not cause
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Psychological therapies

interpreter dreams (unconscious mind)

Freud believed that during sleep, the ego defences are lowered, allowing repressed material to surface in a disguised, symbolic form.

free association

Involves a patient talking about whatever comes to mind, regardless of whether it makes any sense.

Freud believed that the value of free association lies in the fact that these association are determined by unconscious factors which analysis tries to uncover.


·      Therapists attempt to trace these unconscious factors to their origins and then help the individual to deal with them.

·         Make the unconscious, conscious.

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  • Bergin found 80% of 100,000 patients benefited from psychological therapies
  • has been found to help people with anxiety disorders
  • cause and symptoms
  • no side effects


  • Fails to see the difference in individuals and how there subconsciousness may vary 
  • False memories- not all memories we have may of actually happened. 
  • Can not be scientifically tested
  • time and money
  • can not treat schizophrenia
  • misinterpreatation
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Systematic desensitisation

The patient is slowly exposed to the feared object by creating a hierarchy of steps towards concurring the phobia, with each step completed they receive praise (positive reinforcement) and learn to remain calm using relaxation techniques till they fear it no more.


  • Can be used on a wide range of people including the mentally disabled
  • 75% of patients with phobias respond to systematic desensitization
  • no side effects
  • long term relief
  • cause and symptoms


  • SD may appear to solve the problem but in fact just gets rid of the physical symptoms 
  • Not as effective with phobias that have an underlying survival component e.g fear of dangerous animals
  • does not work on other mental conditions such as schizophrenia
  • time
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CBT therapy (RET)

Challenging irrational beliefs

logical disputing- Does thinking this way make sense?

Empirical disputing- Where is the proof this is accurate?


  • Has been shown to be effective especially with OCD and social phobias
  • prepares a patient for future events
  • no side effects
  • symptoms and case
  • Thase et al found CBT to be more effective than drugs


  • irrational thoughts may be rational
  • Does not always work on deeply religious patients where possible 'irrational fears', may be part of there religion.
  • doesn't work for schizophrenics
  • time
  • motivation
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