Psychological Abnormality

Psychological Abnormality

What is abnormal psychology?

The distinction between 'normal' and 'abnormal' behaviour is not clear-cut.

Psychologists have tried to define abnormality in several different ways.

The interaction below shows four ways of defining abnormality but the explanations are jumbled up. Drag and drop the definitions to the correct terms.

Install Flash

All four definitions in the table above have drawbacks as adequate definitions of abnormality.

Criticisms of these definitions are:

Statistical Infrequency: Does not account for social acceptability or type of behaviour. For example, very high intelligence is abnormal because it is rare. Also, eccentric behaviour that is rare but acceptable is also abnormal.

Deviation from Social Norms: Social norms vary from one society to another and standards change. For example, in our society, it used to be considered far more abnormal to be an unmarried mother than it is now.

Failure to Function Adequately: Apart from social dysfunction, this also includes being in a disabling state of distress. Problems include the fact that some mental disorders do not cause distress and that sometimes it is normal to be distressed. Withdrawal from society may be mental disorder, but not necessarily. There is also a possible intersection between abnormal psychology and IO psychology (Industrial and Organizational) as it relates to the workplace.

Deviation from Ideal Mental Health: The standards for ideal mental health are generally difficult to measure and so demanding that most people fail to meet them anyway!

Cultural relativism: Some disorders are specific to some cultures, or found in some populations more than others. It is difficult to say whether the disorders are really less common amongst some people, possibly for genetic reasons, or whether there are differences in diagnosis.

For example: British African-Caribbean people are far more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than other members of the population, the reasons could be genetic, to do with social conditions and stress, or bias and prejudice in the medical system.

Different Models: assumptions and treatments

ModelAssumptions on CausesTreatments
Biological (medical)Physical causes, (genetics, biochemistry)Somatic - drugs
Psychodynamic (psychoanalytical)Unresolved emotional conflicts in early life, now repressed.Talking to bring out and work through unconscious conflicts.
BehaviouralAbnormal behaviour is learned by association and reinforcementFocus on learning new responses to situations
CognitiveFaulty thinking distorts perception of thingsChallenging the way a person sees themselves