PSYCHOLOGY – Abnormality
7. Definition of abnormality (30 minutes)
(a) Outline three definitions of abnormality.
(2 marks + 2 marks + 2 marks)
Abnormality has been defined in a number of ways, including: unusual behaviour that is different from
the norm; behaviour that does not conform to social expectations or demands; statistical infrequency;
failure to function adequately; presence of pronounced psychological suffering or distress; deviation
from ideal mental health. Outline any three and provide an example of each.
(b) Describe limitations associated with attempts to define abnormality.
Statistical infrequency: most people suffer psychological problems at some time in their lives hence
psychological problems are statistically normal. Many psychological attributes are assumed to be
normally distributed, e.g. IQ scores. However, very high IQs, which are statistically rare, are not likely
to be considered abnormal whereas very low scores are.
Deviation from social norms: Szasz (1972) suggested that psychopathology is manufactured in order to
label people who do not conform to social norms or rules of morality. The American Psychiatric
Society, for example, classified homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1973. Social norms are
specific to cultures, for example, British psychiatrists (being mainly male, white and middle class) may
not be well prepared to understand the behaviour, emotions and motivations of individuals from
different cultural and social backgrounds. This could account for why Afro-Caribbean immigrants have
been up to seven times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia (Cochrane 1977).
(c) Describe the behavioural model of abnormality.
Emphasizes the role of environmental influences upon overt behaviour. Concepts such as mental illness
are not used because mental structures are of no interest to advocates of this model. Abnormal
behaviour is viewed as being...