Definitions of abnormality

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1) Statistical infrequency

  • Abnormal behaviour = statistically uncommon
  • A normal distribution curve has the most common occurence in the centre. The further away from the centre, the more abnormal the behaviour is. e.g.: Average IQ is 100, so this would be found in the centre of the curve. It is abnormal to have a very low or high IQ.


P: A disadvantage of this definition of abnormality is that it fails to acknowledge that unusual characteristics can be positive.

E: Just because a behaviour is uncommon does not mean it requires treatment.

E: For example, IQ scores above 130 are not a cause of concern. Infact, they should be celebrated, not seen as an abnormality to cure.

D: This means that infrequency should never be used on its own to define abnormality, which reduces its generalisability.

P: However, an advantage of this definition is that it has a real life application.

E: Assessment of mental disorders have even been shaped by this definition.

E: For example, intellectual disability disorder is diagnosed using statistical infrequency.

D: It is therefore a useful part of clinical assessment.

2) Deviation from social norms

  • Based on social context - abnormality = behaviour that strays from what society expects
  • Varies due to historical differences within cultures and cultural differences across cultures
  • e.g.: antisocial personality disorder = failure to conform to "lawful and culturally normative ethical behaviour"


P: An important limitation of this definition is that it can lead to human rights abuses.

E: This has been the case in history.

E: For instance, black slaves attempting to escape were labelled as drapetomaniac and women attracted to working class men were deemed nymphomaniac.

D: This means that this definition can be considered as a tool for social control as opposed to helping people get the…


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