Psychology individual differences / abnormality

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Individual differences

The definition of abnormality

  • deviation from social norms

All societies have social norms, unwritten social rules that govern our behaviour. When a person shows behaviour that is socially deviating ie breaking these social rules such as hugging a stranger as if they are your best friend, then they are likely to be considered abnormal by the rest of the group.

One limitation of this definition is that it is very context dependent. For example, the behaviour that takes place may be judged differently depending on the context and the severity of it. Most behaviours could actually be interpreted as harmless eccentricity. Therefore this definition is limited.

Secondly, it is future dependent. What s considered abnormal in one culture may not be considered abnormal in another.

  • failure to function adequately.

This definition suggests that we can assess a persons mental state by judging how well they cope in everyday life. For example, a depressed person may not be considered depressed unless the depression interferes with their day to day activities such as keeping up with personal hygiene.

One limitation of this definition is that it is snapshot. This is because the person may be having a temporary illness which could result in them not being able to function adequately. For this reason, we cannot be sure if the behaviour is abnormal or if it is temporary.

Secondly, the way a person lives their life is very dependent on their culture. For example, some cultures may be living simplistically and the criteria may not be relevant. Eg if it was tested on different cultures, it would produce different results.

  • deviation from ideal mental health.

Jahoda constructed a positive criteria that makes up mental well being. If a person lacks in any of these then they may be considered abnormal.


Self actualisation, which is the ability to realise own potential and achieve set goals

Resistance to stress, which is the ability to cope with stress and overcome it without becoming ill or breaking down.

One limitation of this is that nobody can achieve all this criteria and whilst testing, there will be more people diagnosed as abnormal rather than normal.

A second limitation of this is that it suggests that a person can be considered normal if they cope well with stress. However, it fails to take into account that stress can actually be a good thing and can motivate a person to do well.

Furthermore, this criteria can be considered a limitation as it is imposing etics. Eg self actualisation may be more common in individualistic cultures rather than collectivist cultures and therefore they may produce variant results. Therefore ths criteria is not applicable to different cultures.

Explanations of abnormality.

The biological approach.

Outline: the biological approach suggests that abnormality/ mental illness is the result of faulty or abnormal biological or physiological bodily processes. This approach is the most dominant and more common for treatment.

This approach suggests that abnormality is the result of malfunction of the brain, or…


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