Defining Abnormality

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  • Defining Abnormality
    • Statistical Infrequency
      • This definition says behaviour is abnormal if it is statistically rare/ uncommon /infrequent
      • It is based on the idea that behaviour is normally distributed and that there is a central average for a behaviour
      • Suggests that anyone that falls 2 standard deviations away from the mean is abnormal
      • example: only 1% of the  population have  schizophrenia
      • Strengths
        • Objective - not based on opinions but factual evidence
        • statistics are easy to measure and compare
      • Weaknesses
        • Relies on statistics which may be inaccurate – therefore lacks validity.
        • Not everything rare is a negative or abnormal
        • statistics can be arbituary
    • Deviation from Social Norms
      • Social norms are approved and expected ways of behaving in a particular society
      • Under this definition, a person’s  thinking or behaviour is abnormal if it violates or deviates from the rules in their society
      • Strengths
        • Easy to observe whether people are going against social norms
      • Weaknesses
        • Social norms vary from culture to culture
        • norms change over time (a behaviour may have been abnormal then but not now)
    • Failure to Function Adequately
      • a person is considered abnormal if they are unable to cope with the demands of every day life
      • If a person struggles to live independently they may be seen as failing to function adequately
      • This may mean they are unable to look after themselves, have a job, interact with others, get on a bus etc.
      • Strengths
        • This definition takes into account not only the impact of the individual but also the effect it has on their family/friends
      • Weaknesses
        • Many ‘normal’ people do struggle to function adequately after a life event like a break-up or a bereavement, but we don’t consider them abnormal
        • Using this definition may mean it is largely subjective as to what is considered adequate
        • Many people engage with behaviour that is potentially harmful but we don’t call them as abnormal
    • Deviation from Ideal Mental Health
      • Jahoda (1958)?
        • She proposed 6 elements for optimal living
          • 1. Positive attitudes towards self
          • 2. Growth, development and self-actualisation
          • 3. Voluntary control of behaviour
          • 4. Psychological balance with resistance to stress and frustration
          • 5. True perception of reality
          • 6. Adequacy in love, work and play, with the ability to adapt and adjust
      • This definition focuses on what is normal/ideal for an individual?
        • ?It focuses on a person’s well-being.
      • Strengths
        • Attempts to outline what ‘normal’ actually is, rather than saying what isn’t normal
      • Weaknesses
        • Subjective
        • largely based on Western ideals (ethnocentric)
        • Almost impossible for anyone to achieve this all the time


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