definitions of abnormality - psychopathology - a level psychology aqa


statistical infrequency

  • defines 'normal' as referring to typical values/statistics
  • so 'abnormal' is behaviour that's more rare and not typical or normal, either side of the most frequent behaviours
  • some abnormal behaviours are desirable - having a high iq e.g. one over 150 is rare but not undesirable - there are also some normal (statistically frequent) behaviours that are undesirable e.g. depression
  • cut off point is subjective - different people class different things as abnormal according to this definition - e.g. some people think abnormal sleep is <6 hours a night but others may think its <5 hours
  • sometimes appropriate - e.g. intellectual disability is definited using standard deviation to establish a cut off point for abnormality - mental disorder is diagnosed (only along with failure to function adequately) when iq is more than 2 s.d.'s below the mean
  • differs for different cultures - claiming to hear voices (symptom of schizophrenia) is common in some cultures - standard of labelling someone as abnormal aren't universal 
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deviation from social norms

  • social norms - standards of acceptable behaviour created by a social group who adheres to these standards
  • anyone who behaves against these socially created norms is classed as abnormal
  • standards can be in place for legal reasons or social reasons such as politeness
  • susceptible to abuse - homosexuality is acceptible in most countries but 50 yrs ago it was classed as a sexual and gender identity disorder in the DSM - what is socially acceptable now is not always the same as 50 years ago - can be an excuse to discriminate on others' identities or beliefs as people may define social morals to be what they were like in history
  • dependent on context and degree - e.g. showing a lot of skin on the beach would be considered normal whereas the same outfit in a formal gathering or classroom would be considered abnormal - shouting loudly and persistently is only disturbing when excessive - not complete definition on its own
  • does distinguish between desirable and undesirable - since social rules are established based off desirable behaviours, abnormal behaviour that defies these rules is damaging
  • dependent on culture - social norms defined by culture - DSM based off social norms of the west and same criteria applies to different subcultures on the west too - cultural relativism acknowledged in the most recent DSM version 
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failure to function adequately

  • abnormality is not being able to cope with everyday living 
  • Rosenhan and Seligman's criteria: unpredictability, maladaptive behaviour, personal distress, irrationality, observer discomfort, violation of moral standards, unconventionality
  • subjective - no definite decision as to whether someone is failing to function adequately as the judgement depends on who's making the decision - the person themselves may be content but just because others see it as distressing doesn't necessarily mean its functioning inadequately
  • some 'dysfunctional' behaviour can be beneficial for the individual - mental disorders like e.d. and depression can lead to extra attention for the individual that's rewarding and more functional than disfunctional
  • allows us to recognise the experience of the patient - we can judge abnormality objectively as we can see whether or not an individual is distressed by their behaviours or not - sensitivity and practicality
  • culturally relative -  different diagnoses to people of different cultures as different cultures have different ideas as to how their life should be lived - lower class and non white patients have different lifestyles to dominant culture and are more often diagnosed with mental disorders
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deviation from ideal mental health

  • Jahoda (1958) - since we define physical illness by looking at the absense of signs of physical health, we should do the same for mental illness
  • the characteristics that enable an individual to be free of distress and behave competently: self attitudes, personal grown and self actualisation, integration (coping with stressful situations), autonomy (independence), accurate perception of reality and mastery of the environment
  • absense of these criteria indicates abnormality
  •  unrealistic criteria - hard to measure/assess someone's capacity of personal growth - also unclear how much of the criteria needs to be lacking before someone's abnormal
  • tries to apply principles of physical health to general health - physical illnesses are easier to diagnose as they have physical causes - mental disorders are more complicated and can also be contributed to by life experiences - can't diagnose them the same way
  • focusses on the positives rather than negatives - doesn't give the impression that their behaviour is unideal or undesirable - in accordance with the positive psychology movement - influence on humanistic approach
  • culturally bound - the goal of self actualisation is only relevant to members of individualist cultures and not collectivist ones - people in collectivist and non-middle class groups are subsequently more likely to get wrongly categorised as abnormal
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