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Defining abnormality

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One way of defining abnormality is in terms of characteristics or behaviours that are statistically infrequent (the deviation from statistical norms definition). However, this does not take into account the desirability of a characteristic or behaviour. The definition also fails to recognise that in all cultures large numbers of people may engage in behaviours that constitute mental disorders. A further problem is the failure to identify how far a person must deviate before being 'abnormal'. Such decisions are difficult to make and then consequently justify. The deviation from ideal mental health definition proposes that abnormal people do not possess characteristics that mental healthy people do, or possess characteristics that mentally healthy people do not. This particular definition relies on value judgements about what constitutes ideal mental health. It is also bound by culture, era-dependent, and limited by the context in which behaviour occurs. Abnormality has also been defined as a failure to function adequately (by not achieving some sense of personal well-being and making some contribution to a larger social group). Experiencing personal distress or discomfort, causing distress to others, and behaving in an unexpected or bizarre manner are often the reasons why people come to the attention of psychologists. ...read more.


We learn the likely consequences of our on actions at a very early age through rewards and punishments from those who are caring for us. For example, anti-social personality disorders have been explained in operant conditioning terms. If childhood aggression is rewarded, then that behaviour is likely to be repeated and reinforced again and again. Behaviours that may appear maladaptive to others may be functional or adaptive to the individual. For example, anxiety or depression might produce secondary gain in the form of attention and concern for others. If a child grows up in a violent environment, the child learns anti-social behaviour by observing violent behaviour in others. The behavioural model emphasises individual differences: we are all subject to our own unique learning experiences, which means that the gap between 'normal' and 'abnormal' is reduced. For example, cross-cultural studies have revealed that what is regarded as abnormal in one culture may be regarded as normal in another. Many studies have been conducted to test out the behavioural model, such as the famous study by Watson and Raynor 1920 who conditioned a young boy named 'Little Albert' to fear white rats. However, because of the ethical considerations surrounding conditioning research with humans, many of the more recent studies have been carried out on animals and it is an open question whether such research can be extended to humans. ...read more.


Genetic factors are ignored and little attention is paid to the role of social and interpersonal factors or of individuals' life experiences in producing mental disorders. According to the cognitive model, individuals with mental disorders have distorted thoughts and beliefs and so the disorders are mainly their own fault. That notion raises a number of ethical issues. First, patients may find it stressful to accept responsibility for their mental disorder. Secondly, it may be unfair to blame individuals for their mental disorder, because others around them may be mainly responsible. It is suggested that the root of maladaptive experiences may be childhood experiences. Thirdly, the negative thoughts and beliefs of those with mental disorders are often entirely rational, and reflect accurately the unfortunate circumstances in which a person is living. Attempts to put the blame on to the patient may inhibit efforts to produce desirable behaviour. Each of the models explain the origins of abnormality in different ways. However, these models are not necessarily mutually exclusive, since each is effectively examining a different aspect of the individual. The biological model observes that learned behaviour can be maladaptive whilst the cognitive model claims that thoughts can be irrational and therefore also maladaptive. The behaviourist model states that abnormal behaviour is learnt in the same way as other types of behaviour through stimulus-response mechanisms and operant conditioning. Each of the models is subject to certain practical and ethical considerations also. ...read more.

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