Abnormal Psychology: Concepts and Diagnoses

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Abnormal Psychology
Concepts and Diagnoses
Discuss the concepts of normality and abnormality.
(Discuss: Offer a considered and balanced review that includes a range of arguments, factors or hypotheses. Opinions or conclusions should be presented clearly and supported by appropriate evidence) Defining Abnormality

* There are several characteristics that can be viewed as components of abnormal behaviour. * These cannot be used independently, as no one component sufficiently defines abnormality. Defining Abnormality in Terms of ‘Statistical Infrequency’ * Abnormality can be defined as deviation from the average, where statistically common behaviour is defined as ‘normal’ while statistically rare behaviour is ‘abnormal’. * Abnormal behaviour is considered to be infrequent.

* By definition, abnormality means ‘deviating from the norm or average’. * Perhaps the most obvious way to define abnormality is in terms of statistically infrequent characteristics or behaviours. * For example, if the average height of a given population of adults is 5’8”, we would probably describe someone who was 7’6” or 3’3” as being ‘abnormally’ tall or short respectively. * When people behave in ways the vast majority does not, or do not behave in ways in ways the vast majority does, we often label them abnormal. * Behavioural measures, such as intelligence and short-term memory, tend to be normally-distributed. * The distribution from a sample of people tends to fall within a bell-shaped curve. * Those that fall near the centre will constitute the majority, and their behaviour will be constructed as “normal”. * For example, anxiety can be assessed using Spielberger’s State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The mean score for trait anxiety is 40 and people who achieve over 55 are seen as statistically rare as only 1 in 50 score that high. Therefore, those with high scores are seen as deviant from the greater majority of the population. * Statistical frequency is used to define mental retardation. * IQ is normally distributed amongst the population.

* Though a number of criteria are used to define mental retardation, low intelligence is the fundamental measure. * When someone’s IQ is below 70, the person is deemed to be mentally retarded. * Strengths:

* It is numerical based there are key boundaries less error in interpretation. * Limitations:
* It fails to take into account of the desirability of a behaviour or characteristic. * Some things that are statistically normal – such as obesity – are not desirable or healthy behaviours. * Some that are statistically rare – such as high IQ – are not dysfunctional. * There are people involved in a range of undesirable behaviours in all cultures: * “Americans [engage in various] socially undesirable behaviour patterns, from mild depression to child abuse, [and] if it were possible to add up all the numbers, it would become clear that as many as one out of every two people would fall into at least one of these categories” (Hassett & White, 1989). * These behaviour patterns, which characterise half the American population, would be normal in a statistical sense, but they are also regarded as mental disorders. * We cannot know just how far from the average a person must deviate before being considered abnormal. * If a population’s average height is 5’8”, a decision must be made about when a person becomes abnormally tall or short. * Such decisions are difficult both to make and justify.

* There are problems deciding how statistically rare (2 or 3 standard deviations?) behaviour has to be to be considered abnormal. * Some currently accepted mental disorders are probably not statistically rare enough to be defined as abnormal, eg. phobias. Defining Abnormality as a ‘Deviation from Social Norms’

* All societies have standards, or norms, for appropriate behaviours and beliefs (that is, expectations about how people...
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