Psychology Revision - Individual Differences - Abnormality

Information on abnormality as


Psychology Revision - Individual Differences - Abn

What is Abnormality?The term abnormality refers to behaviour and psychological functioning, which are considered different from the ‘norm’.

Definitions ; Abnormality = Statistical Infrequency –

· This approach is base on that certain behaviours are statistically rare in the population. Any behaviour that falls outside the rage of what is considered typical for most people is considered abnormal.

· Human traits such as aggression or IQ levels can be represented on a distribution curve and the majority of individuals would cluster around the mean.

 Limitations of Statistical Infrequency –

· Some infrequent behaviours / characteristics are desirable e.g. high IQ. However this definition still classes them as abnormal.

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Psychology Revision - Individual Differences - Abn

· The definition isn’t free of value judgements – what is statistically rare in one culture / country may not be in another – therefore the definition isn’t as straightforward.

·With the statistical approach it is hard to decide by how much behaviour must deviate before it is considered abnormal - The cut off point isn’t clear.

 Abnormality = Deviation from Social Norms –

·All societies have standards and norms (expected / appropriate behaviour patterns e.g. queuing). This definition argues that a person who acts in a socially deviant way / breaks societies standards is abnormal.

·This is based on abnormal behaviour being perceived as unpredictable, it causes observer discomfort and violates moral standards. Abnormal thinking is irrational because it differs from common ways of thought.

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Psychology Revision - Individual Differences - Abn

 Limitations of Deviation from Social Norms –

·         This definition is too dependent on context.

·         This definition depends on the time and culture

·         Social deviancy isn’t always a bad thing some deviance is good for example people who don’t conform to politically repressive regimes,

 Abnormality = A Failure to Function Adequately –

·         Most societies have expectations about how people should live their lives and contribute to social groups around them, when an individual cannot meet these obligations the both society and also the individuals feel they are failing to function adequately.

·         If an individual’s behaviour, mood or think adversely affects their (1) Well-being, i.e. their ability to retain relationships and employment. (2) Becomes a danger to their own safety and (3) they become a danger to the safety of others, then they are considered abnormal.

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Psychology Revision - Individual Differences - Abn

·Rosenhan and Seligman came up with 7 characteristics in which they think class someone as abnormal:
            - Suffering
            - Maladaptiveness (un able to adapt)
            - Unconventional Behaviour
            - Unpredictable Behaviour
            - Irrationality
            - Observer Discomfort
            - Violation of Moral Standards.
Each of these on its own may not be sufficient to cause a problem but when several are present then they are symptomatic of abnormality.


Limitations of Failure to Function Adequately –

·         This is still a value judgement – what degree of failure to function normally is deemed abnormal?

·         Sometimes failure to function normally is a normal reaction to the situation e.g. being in shock after an accident

·         Not all people who have mental disorders are aware of their failure to function normally.

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Psychology Revision - Individual Differences - Abn

Abnormality = Deviation from Ideal Mental Health -

·         Marie Jahoda came up with 6 characteristics of ideal mental health and used these to define someone as abnormal if they did not posses the following characteristics:
      - Positive attitude towards self, a sense of identity, self-respect.
      - Personal growth, Striving to obtain ones full potential (based on work by Maslow)
      - Integration, The ability to cope with highly stressful situations.
      - Autonomy, The extent to which a person is reliant on their inner resources (independence).
      - Perception of Reality, seeing ones self and the world around them in realistic terms no as a distortion.
      - Adapting to environment, being flexible & adaptable to situations. Ability to love, work, play etc


Limitations of Deviation from Ideal Mental Health –

·         This definition is vague – how can someone’s self esteem be measured?

·         Many people probably lack some of Jahoda’s characteristics as the characteristics are ideal so when are people classed as abnormal?

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Psychology Revision - Individual Differences - Abn

 Cultural Relativism

A major problem with psychological definitions of Abnormality is that they often fail to consider differences between cultures.

·         Cultural Relativism means that value judgments are up to individual cultural context and we cannot make absolute statements about what is normal or abnormal.

·         Different cultures will have different criteria as to what constitutes as normal and abnormal behaviour. What maybe considered deviant or abnormal in one culture may be normal in another Therefore it is almost impossible to come up with a universal definition of abnormality.

·         Some syndromes are regarded as “Culture bound Syndromes” (CBS). They are present in some cultures but not others i.e. Anorexia

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