Defining Abnormality

Deviation From Social Norms: Suggests that an individual is abnormal if their behaviour is seen as unexpected/unacceptable by others, society has written and unwritten rules and if individuals don't comply to these they are seen as abnormal. (For example laughing at a funeral - symptom of Schizophrenia).

Culture: Can't be universally applied, different social norms and standards depending, (Trobriand Islanders, widow wear husband's jawbone as necklace). Weakness as it can't be used everywhere, and have to be reconsidered for each culture

Changes over time: Social norms have changed, relate to moral standards (homosexuality was regarded as abnormal 1990). Weakness as the definition can't take these fast changes into account.

Social Control: A few powerful people in society decide if an individual's behaviour is deviating from social norms. Weakness as it means some people may be labelled unfairly, as it can be considered as a subjective way to identify people.

Effect of Individuals behaviour: Considers the effects of an individuals behaviour on others. A strength as it recognises abnormality effects more than just the individual. 

Objective: Measures abnormlity in an objective way rather than subjective, an advantage because it means a judgement about an individuals mental state can be made without bias, as they make not think they are abnormal. 

Failure to Function Adequately: inability to go about day to day life, such as not eating regually, washing, difficult maintaining jobs/relationships. Rosenhan and Seligman identified features to identify an individuals failure to function:

  • Observer discomfort: observer uncomfortable
  • Unpredictability: not predictable
  • Irrationality: hard to understand
  • Maladaptiveness: bad for themselves
  • Personal suffering/distress: behaving in a way to cause them distress

Dr Harold Shipman: GP, reponsible for murdering elderly patients, he looked like he was functioning normally, never showed signs of dysfunction. Weakness as using this definition we can fail to identify abnormality. 

Subjective: Depends on the individuals perspective, as an eccentric person would't find their behaviour weird, whilst someone else would. Weakness as it makes it hard to apply the features consistently.

Culture: Behaviour is different between cultures. A weakness becuase the same criteria can't be used to identify abnormality, as it can't be universally applied. 

Assessed in Context: Needs to take all issues into account, such as distress which is sometimes normal, such as when an individual is grieving, distress would be normal. Weakness as the definition doesn't consider circumstances. 

Statistical Infrequency: behavious that are statistically rare are abnormal. As any individiual who falls outside the normal distributuion, two standard deviations from the mean, is regarded as abnormal. 

Draw the line: Difficult to establish where to draw the line between normal and abnormal, as it's not always clear at which point becomes a problem. A weakness as the judgement is subjective when establishing the border, and difficult to justify.

Highly Intelligent: The definition assumes anyone deviating from the average is abnormal, however ignores people who maybe highly intelligent, such as scoring a high IQ would be rare, but we would be unhappy to call them abnormal. A weakness


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