Historical Perspectives of Abnormal Psychology

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Historical Perspectives of Abnormal Psychology

Historical Perspectives of Abnormal Psychology
Although people have tried to explore and discover the roots of abnormal behavior s since antiquity, the field of abnormal psychology emerged as a branch under the functionalist school (Comer, 2006). Understandably, it uses the tenets, research methods, and premises of psychology itself. However, abnormal behavior is more difficult to define. With the advent of cultural and cross-cultural psychology, as well, abnormal psychology and its definitions have been increasingly challenged (Comer, 2006). Therefore, abnormal psychology intersects the main schools of psychology and those of its other branches and often struggles to define the margins of human thought and behavior (Bandura, 2001). Like the behaviors and disorders its studies, abnormal psychology is anomalous in nature. History of Abnormal Psychology

Even though modern psychology extended from Wilhelm Wundt’s work in observation, human behavior and the associative philosophies engaged to explain his laboratory-based results in 1879, Wundt’s results often inspired disagreement (Coon and Mitterer, 2010, p. 21). After all, his observations were systematic in nature, rarely reflected “real life” and focused on consciousness. More troubling, perhaps, the introspection analysis often required produced dissimilar explanations, interpretations and meanings. As Coon and Mitterer (2010) reveal, reflection is subjective. Therefore, perceptions and description of the same object or process elicit varied descriptions (p. 21). When such an occurrence repeats itself within a discipline, this engenders other schools of thought, further inquiry and exploration and often engages more methods. Psychology is no exception. As evidenced by William James, an American scholar, (Coon and Mitterer, 2010) his expansion of psychology through the inclusion of animal behavior, religious experience, and abnormal behavior under the aegis and influence of Darwinism and adaptability, the functionalist school grew (p. 23). Addressing the ways in which the mind functioned to facilitate or hinder adaptation to the environment, James (as cited by Conn and Mitterer, 2010) contended that consciousness was not a life-long set of building blocks, but an ever changing, a continuous stream of images and scenarios (p. 22). Because of this, James and the functionalist sought deeper understanding of the interaction between the mind, perception habits, and emotions (p. 23). More importantly, perhaps, they wondered how they promoted survival through adaptability (p. 23). This not only coauthored cognitive, educational and industrial psychology but also helped fashion abnormal psychology. After all, failure to adapt signified abnormality, as did learning differences (p. 23). Through B.F. Skinner’s application of behavioral theory to humans, ideas of “designed culture” emerged (Coon and Mitterer, 2010, p. 23). That is to stay that Skinner believed positive or negative reinforcement created and cultivated responses to various situations and stimuli (p. 24). While he believed that positive reinforcement was the best tool for normative behaviors, he ultimately insisted that punitive measures often resulted in destructive and maladaptive behaviors including war, overpopulation and other deviance (p. 24). The cognitive psychology school criticized his work because it overlooked the cognitive capacity in mediation and mitigation, decision-making and learning (p. 24). The synthesis of these two schools ultimately comprises a significant component of behavior modification programs and therapies used in abnormal psychology. Sigmund Freud believed the unconscious thought held important clues to abnormal behavior. Relating behaviors to events and circumstances, Freud engendered psychoanalysis (Coon and Mitterer, 2010, p. 224). This, too, became a...
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