Unit 2 Psychology- Abnormality

Features of Abnormality.

Criticisms of Definitions of Abnormality.

4 Main Features- 1

Statistical Infrequency

®     A person’s trait, thinking or behaviour is defined as abnormal if it is rare or statistically unusual.

®     It is necessary to be clear how rare a trait needs to be before classed as abnormal.

Average IQ in population is 100pts. Fewer people have an IQ over 100.

<2.2% of the population have an IQ below 70pts. Such people are statistically rare they’re regarded as having abnormally low IQs.

1 of 10

Features Of Abnormality

Features of Abnormality

®     Mood Swings

®     Statistical Infrequency

®     Depression

®     Failure to Function Adequately

®     Faulty Perception

®     Deviation from Social Norms

®     Deception- false belief

2 of 10

4 Main Features- 2

Deviation from Social Norms

®     A person’s thinking or behaviour is classified as abnormal if it violates the (unwritten) rules about what is expected or acceptable behaviours in a particular social group.

®     Behaviour; incomprehensible to others, or making others feel threatened or feel uncomfortable.

It is necessary to consider the degree to which a norm is violated, the importance of that norm and the value attached by social group to different sorts of violation.

*       E.g. is the violation rude, eccentric, abnormal or criminal?

3 of 10

4 Main Features- 3

Failure to Function Adequately

®      A person is considered abnormal if they are unable to cope with the demands of everyday life.

®      They may be unable to perform the behaviours of day- to- day living.


*       E.g. self care, hold down a job, interact meaningfully with others, make themselves understood etc.


®      Rosenhan & Seligman (1989) suggest the following characteristics:

*       Suffering

*       Maladaptiveness (danger to self)

*       Vividness & unconventionality (stands out)

*       Unpredictability & loss of control

*       Irrationality/ incomprehensibility

*       Causes observer discomfort

*       Violates moral/ social standards

4 of 10

4 Main Features- 4

Deviation from Ideal Mental Health

®     Rather than defining what is abnormal, we define what is normal/ideal and anything that deviates from this is considered as abnormal.

®     This requires us to decide on the characteristics we consider necessary to mental health.

5 of 10

Criticisms of Definitions of Abnormality

Criticising Definitions- exist in all definitions examined

®     Subjectivity

®     Over and under inclusivity

®     Cultural Relativity

6 of 10

Criticisms of 4 Main Features- 1

Statistical Infrequency

®     Doesn’t consider desirability of behaviours or traits.

*       Very high intelligence or extremely altruistic behaviours are both statistically rare, but wouldn’t generally be classed as ‘abnormal’.

*       Many rare behaviours or characteristics (e.g. left handedness) have no bearing on normality or abnormality.

®     Some behaviours/characteristics are regarded as abnormal, even though they are quite frequent.

*       Depression may affect 27% of elderly people (NIMH 2001). This would make it common, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.

7 of 10

Criticisms of 4 Main Features- 2

Violation of Social Norms

®      Social norms change between cultures and overtime. Consequently, so do people’s conceptions of abnormality.

*       Homosexuality was regarded as a mental illness until 1973, but not anymore.

*       Cross-cultural misunderstandings are common, and may contribute to e.g. high diagnosis rate of schizophrenia amongst non-white British people.

®      Classification of abnormality can only be based on the context in which behaviour occurs.

*       Same behaviour might be normal or abnormal e.g. ********** in bathroom or classroom.

*       A subjective judgement is usually necessary e.g. there may be situational factors unknown to the observer.

8 of 10

Criticisms of 4 Main Features- 3

Failure to Function Adequately

®      Adequate functioning is defined largely by social norms. Most people fail to function adequately at some time, but are not considered ‘abnormal’.

*       After a bereavement most people find it difficult to cope normally.

*       Ironically, they might actually be considered more abnormal if they functioned as usual.

®      Many people engage in behaviour that is maladaptive/ harmful or threatening to self, but we don’t class them as abnormal.

*       Adrenaline Sports

*       Smoking, drinking alcohol

*       Skipping classes

9 of 10

Criticisms of 4 Main Features- 4

Deviation from Ideal Mental Health

®     What is considered ideal is historically and culturally specific.

®     Jahoda’s and others’ criteria set the bar too high.

*       Strictly applied, so few people meet these criteria that everyone ends up classed as abnormal and so the concept becomes meaningless.

10 of 10


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Abnormality resources »