Three Different Ways of Defining Abnormality

Pages: 2 (456 words) Published: February 25, 2014
Psychologists use 3 different ways of defining abnormality. The first of these is deviation from social norms. Social norms are behaviours that the society an individual lives within promotes. An example of a current social norm is politeness. We find it grossly abnormal when someones is unnecessarily rude. A Tourette's sufferer often produces vocalisations that others would find upsetting and intrusive.

A difficulty with using this definition is that social norms can change over time, this means this definition is subject to historical bias. Behaviour that was once seen to be abnormal or socially unacceptable will grow to become socially accepted. An example of this is homosexuality, this was considered to be a psychological disorder until 1973 and people were offered treatment to cure them of their 'disease'. Thankfully, attitudes have changed significantly in the last 40 years.

A second way of defining abnormality is to use the failure to function adequately definition. This argues that people are unable to cope with everyday functioning, and are displaying behaviours that we consider to be dysfunctional. Rosenhan and Seligman in 1989 proposed 7 criteria that indicated abnormality. These features included: Vividness, Observer discomfort, Violation of moral standards, Irrationality, Maladaptiveness, Unpredictability and Suffering. It is proposed that the more of these 7 criteria you display, the more abnormal you are.

This definition is also not without its critics, as certain criteria may be subject to cultural relativism. Behaviour can differ in its meaning across different cultures. Observer discomfort is the case in point. Seeing a homosexual couple in the UK would not be uncomfortable, however if this couple were seen in public in Uganda it would be criminal offence that is punishable by death. Psychologists should be very careful indeed in applying criteria outside of the culture it originates from.

The final definition was developed by Marie...
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