Using empirical evidence examine the concepts of normality and abnormality

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Using Empirical Evidence examine the concepts of normality and abnormality.

Abnormal psychology is the branch of psychology that deals with studying, explaining and treating mental, emotional and behavioral problems. One of the most difficult issues in this area is the definition of abnormality. Although people make judgments about what is abnormal, these are influenced by social and cultural factors. Definitely, the distinction between what is abnormal and what is normal is very difficult, and looking at different common interpretations of abnormality accentuates this problem. Moreover, there is empirical evidence that shows that it is quite hard to confidently characterize a behavior as abnormal.

An interpretation of normality that depends on literal meaning assumes there is such a thing as average behavior, or behavior that most frequently occurs in particular situations. Hence, any behavior that is not statistically frequent and deviates from the statistical average is considered as abnormal. Researchers who take a statistical approach assess how characteristics are distributed in the general population, meaning they create a normal distribution curve. This is a bell shaped curve where most people score around the middle in any given population. However, there are limitations regarding this definition of abnormality. First of all, there are problems deciding how statistically rare a behavior has to be in order to be considered as abnormal. In addition, statistical deviation from the average does not give information regarding the desirability of the deviation; both mental retardation and genius are statistically rare but only the former is considered abnormal. Furthermore, nowadays there are many statistically frequent behaviors, such as depression, but they are still considered as abnormal. When examining limitations of statistical infrequency cultural relativism should also be considered. Some mental disorders are more statistically infrequent in some groups than others, probably due to culture.

A striking example of this limitation can be depression in China. Zhang et al reported a survey in 12 regions in China in 1993 where only 16 out of 19,223 people said they had suffered from a mood disorder. According to Tseng and Hsu the Chinese are very concerned with the body and tend to manifest neurasthenic symptoms such as exhaustion, sleep problems, concentration difficulties, and other symptoms similar to the physical aspects of depression and anxiety. Neurasthenia is a diagnosis that is not present in the DSM system but only in the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders. This disorder is much more common in China than depression. One reason could be that it is less stigmatizing in the Chinese culture. Another explanation could be that it fits better with the traditional way of explaining causes of disease in terms of disharmony of vital organs and imbalance of Qi.

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In addition, Kleinman studied neurasthenia at a psychiatric hospital in China. His aim was to investigate if neurasthenia in China is similar to depression in DSM-III. Kleinman interviewed 100 patients diagnosed with neurasthenia using structured interviews based on DSM-III diagnostic criteria. He found that 87% of patients could be classified as suffering from depression; 90% complained of headaches, 78% of insomnia, 73% of dizziness and 48% of various pains. Depressed mood was only given as the main complaint in 9%. Therefore, he concluded that neurasthenia is a specific Chinese way of expressing depression in somatic ways since the majority of ...

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