Definitions of abnormality

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Deviation from social norms

  • This definiton suggests that behavior is abnormal if it breaks the implicit or explicit social norms of that particular culture. If an individual shows behavior which violates social norms and varies greatly from what a society expects, it can indicate that they are suffering from a mental illness. 
    -Social norms are expectations of behavior which are held by the majority of people in a community. e.g. standing at the back of the queue in a shop.
  •  A disorder that would be identifiable using this defintion is schizophrenia. Showing inappropriate emotions is a breaking of social norms but is also a symptom of schizophrenia. For example laughing at a funeral. 


  • Culturally specific
     The view on what is considered abnormal depends on the social norms of the culture at that time. Definition doesn’t take into account the fact that some people may behave differently to what others would expect, due to the culture they live in, it doesn’t mean they are mentally ill. Some people may be diagnosed incorrectly and treated. Example: in Africa talking to yourself is thought to be normal as it is believed to be a way of communicating with the dead, however in many other countries it is thought to be abnormal. 
  • Changes with the times.
     Ideas on what behaviour is abnormal and morally acceptable change over time. What is regarded as deviation from norms by one generation may be acceptable with the next generation. Example: in past centuries homosexuality has been regarded as deviation from social norms.  In the UK it was a criminal offence in till 1967. This suggests definition isn't accurate.

Failure to function adequately

  • This definition suggests that an individual is abnormal if they have an inability to cope with or preform everyday tasks, such as holding good personal hygiene. Those who fail to carry out such tasks may have a…


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