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Describe and evaluate the concepts of abnormal behaviour When we talk about abnormal behaviour it is not always clear what we mean, as the definition of abnormality

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Q: Describe and evaluate the concepts of abnormal behaviour When we talk about abnormal behaviour it is not always clear what we mean, as the definition of abnormality seems to change every 20 years or so. Not to mention the fact that different cultures have there own ever changing ideals on the subject. Is mental illness to do with gods and demons, is it simply chemical imbalances in the brain or is it, as Thomas Szasz puts it; just eccentricities, with the term mental illness being thought up by the state, as a way of controlling the masses? As both the elements and definitions of abnormality are ever changing, it would be an impossible task to talk about all the different theories and explanations for mental illness. So in this essay I will be focusing on the 7 elements of abnormality as described by Rosenhan and Seligman and the 4 definitions of mental abnormality fond in the "New Webster's English Dictionary". I will also have a brief look at Thomas Szasz's claim that, "there is no such thing as abnormal behaviour; it is societies way of controlling people." The 4 definitions of abnormality are: a statistical infrequency, any defect from the social norm, not to have mental health and an inability to function adequately in society. In the first part of this essay, I will be looking at these definitions and I will be examining both their strengths and weaknesses. The science of psychology and mental illness is based mainly on the behaviour of the majority. This behaviour being seen to be normal, and anyone who strays outside of these relatively narrow boundaries being considered abnormal, hence the expression "statistical infrequency". Simply put, someone who does not fit the general rule is not normal. There are obvious problems with this as a definition of mental illness e.g. having a high IQ goes against the statistical, norm but you wouldn't say that someone with a high IQ was mentally ill. ...read more.


The drug was their crutch and they relied upon it instead of themselves to function. Maybe the real test of mental normality should be whether you could survive on an island for 4 days with food water and shelter and still function normally. In this period of time someone with an addiction would be having withdrawal symptoms but someone mentally normal would not be driven mad by the isolation and someone who had any form of mental unbalance would have showed specific clear signs that they were mentally abnormal. Of course there is always the case of someone purposely choosing not to function, i.e. going on a hunger strike in protest. You can not argue that these people are mentally abnormal because by going on that hunger strike they might be saving their family or indeed an entire country and how can you argue that someone saving their friends and family is mentally abnormal. For this precise reason I think you have to take all 4 definitions of abnormality into account when deciding if someone is abnormal. However you also have to take into account: why the individual is doing what they are doing, is it for a cause e.g. Gandhi went on a hunger strike to promote Indian rights. What culture / society are they from, if an Englishman said you were possessed by the ancestors of your enemies you would think he was insane, however in some African tribes this would be a perfectly reasonable thing to say. What was the context surrounding the behaviour, e.g. if you are a solider and you shoot people in war time that would be considered normal where as if you went out and shot a load of people in the high street that would definitely be considered abnormal behaviour. I hope you can now see some of the problems faced by psychologists when it comes to the diagnoses of abnormality. ...read more.


In order to appreciate this element of abnormal behaviour we must first know what is meant by "ideal standards". Is it simply things like, "do not kill another person"? Or is it stuff as specific as your dress size and hair colour? If you believe it is the latter then it follows that everyone is abnormal as we all fall short of the ideal person in one way or another. If on the other hand you take ideal to be the first definition then you still have the problem of someone disagreeing with the morals of their society .i.e. if you were living in Nazi Germany but were a Jew. The big problem with this element of abnormal behaviour is that it is very vague and therefore it is to easy to group everyone as abnormal just using this element of abnormality. For this reason it is vital that you look at a person's behaviour using all 7 elements of abnormal behaviour before you make a judgment on someone's sanity. Thomas Sazasz saw the fact that there was a get out clause in every definition of abnormality as well as every element of abnormality and came to the conclusion that there was no such thing as abnormality. He wrote several theses on his view. The fact that the treatment of mental illness has progressed so little since prehistoric times also goes further to prove Thomas Sazasz's point. Not to mention the fact that it is well documented that governments try and control the people in there countries by suppressing their behaviour. As logical as Thomas Sazasz argument is I feel that he has missed the most basic idea behind abnormal behaviour which it that some people are just weird. How ever unsatisfactory this is as a definition it is just the way people are and to ignore this fact is to miss the whole point. Therefore I feel that although both the definitions and elements of mental health can easily be undermined they are as good as they can be with the knowledge available to psychologists at this present time. ...read more.

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