Abnormal Psychology; Defining Abnormality

Topics: Sociology, Mental disorder, Abnormal psychology Pages: 7 (2118 words) Published: April 17, 2013
Abnormal Psychology:
Assignment 1- Defining abnormality
Defining abnormal behaviour is one of the most difficult and provocative subjects within the field of abnormal psychology as there are a range of methodologies you can use to define abnormalities. Abnormality is a behaviour or condition that strays from what society views as normal and appropriate, consequently causing distress or harm to oneself or those around them. Due to the fact that society has changed through history when defining abnormality, we are now able to define abnormalities using many different scientific and non-scientific approaches. However despite the fact that abnormal behaviour can be defined in more than one way, all have their limitations; therefore generally psychologists will use a combination of the following methods when defining abnormalities.

Statistical infrequency is one model used to define abnormal behaviour; abnormalities are defined by how often a certain type of behaviour occurs. How the majority of people act are usually classed as normal whereas possessing qualities and traits that are uncommon or rare are usually classed as abnormal. Despite the word abnormal invoking a feeling of negativity, displaying abnormal behaviour is not always viewed as a negative, for example the average human being would not be able to run 100 metres as quick as Usain Bolt as that kind of skill is statistically infrequent therefore according to this particular model he possesses an abnormal skill but would not be classed as having a mental disorder or in need of treatment. The major strength when using this model of defining abnormalities is that it is not subject to personal bias as the standards are set and based wholly on statistics and frequencies; how common certain behaviour is and how often it occurs.

However there are many limitations when using this model, as mentioned above there are many abnormal traits that are statistically infrequent but socially desirable such as being ambidextrous, but according to this model they would be classed as having a mental disorder or in need of treatment which is not the case due to the fact they have an uncommon ability, furthermore there are abnormal traits whist being a statistically frequent type of behaviour they are socially undesirable such as depression.

Another flaw is the fact that the infrequency of some behaviours differ culturally and sub-culturally as certain behaviours are socially acceptable in some cultures but not in others, also within certain cultures there maybe differences. In some African cultures being able to speak to the dead or hearing voices may be statistically infrequent but displaying these kinds of traits are viewed as a blessing therefore socially desirable whereas in the U.K if you professed to be able to speak with dead people, hearing voices or receiving messages from god you would definitely raise concerns with regards to their mental state as this kind of behaviour is statistically infrequent and socially undesirable.

One way to define abnormalities is a ‘Deviation social norms’. Deviation derives from the word deviant and this is defined as irregular or unusual behaviour, social norms are the standards of acceptable behaviour set by us and society around us. Therefore deviating from the social norm is an individual or individuals who act out of character in accordance to the social norms set by society. A simple example of deviating from the social norm is rudeness or lack of politeness. Politeness is fundamental when interacting and communicating with each other positively; similarly somebody who is rude is therefore behaving in a deviant way as they are unable to interact with others according to what society expects. However as our culture also defines our social norms within society, likewise the norms we value may not be socially accepted within another culture.

A good illustration of this is the contrast of social norms is the United...

References: Cardwell, R. Flanagan, C. (2008) Psychology AS: The Complete Companion. Oxford University Press: Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP.
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http://www.integratedsociopsychology.net/Defining_Abnormality/7 'FeaturesofAbnormality '-DavidRosenhan&M.html
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