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Outline and evaluate attempts Essay

(a) Outline 2 attempts to define abnormality (6 marks)

Statistical infrequency is an approach that attempts to define abnormality. It suggests that most human personality and behavioural traits fall within a normal distribution with most people crowding around the middle of the distribution (the norm). Any characteristic that is statistically rare according to this distribution is considered abnormal.

A further attempt at defining abnormality is the deviation from ideal mental health approach. This likens mental health to physical health. Jahoda (1958) suggests that there is a criterion of positive mental health, and if a person deviates from one or more of these principles, they are susceptible to a mental disorder.

(b) Give 2 limitations of statistical infrequency (6 marks)

Certain behaviours are statistically infrequent yet are not classified as abnormal. This includes such things as exceptional music talent as it is seen to be highly desirable. Therefore moderating which behaviours are infrequent and abnormal must entail some sort of criterion.

A further limitation to this definition of abnormality is it is hard to distinguish what a mental disorder is in context to this definition. Depression and anxiety disorders may be frequent in some cultures, nevertheless somewhat absent in others, which can also indicate cultural differences in search of help for disorders rather than differences in their incidence.

c) Outline and evaluate attempts to define psychological abnormality (18 marks)

Abnormality can be described as a deviation from a social norm or standard. The problems in accepting this definition are the difficulties in determining the exceptions and characteristics of ‘normal’ or the standard in question.

Several attempts have been presented in the aim of defining psychological abnormality. This essay will look at discussing these approaches.

Statistical infrequency is included in one of the definitions of psychological abnormality. The basic principle of this is any characteristic or behaviour, which is statistically rare, according to a population, is considered abnormal, for example depression. If a population is tested for depression and it’s frequency is plotted with only 10% this behaviour is seen to be abnormal.

However, there are problems with this definition as there are statistically infrequent behaviours that are desirable such as exceptional sporting ability. So who sets the criterion for abnormality?

A further definition of psychological abnormality is deviation from social norms. This is described as people who behave in a socially deviant manner. They are not governed rules but implicit rules that exist socially, and violation of these rules is considered to be abnormal.

The limitations to this approach are social norms change with time. For example, what was once acceptable 20 years ago may not be acceptable in present day times or vice versa. A further example of social norms changing with time is the issue of homosexuality. Before 1973 homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, but in present times is considered to be a part of society and is not considered abnormal.

Furthermore another attempt to define psychological abnormality is a failure to function adequately. The ability to look after oneself as well as being mentally healthy is seen to be functioning adequately.

However, when one’s behaviour interrupts their ability to do so, they can be categorized as abnormal. For example, people who are unable to leave their homes due to obsessions are branded as abnormal.

The trouble with this definition is that some dysfunctional behaviour might be adaptive and functional for the individual, therefore making it difficult to class that person as abnormal.

An overall criticism that breech’s the reliability of the definitions is that of cultural relativism.

This is the view that one cannot judge behaviour justly unless it is viewed in the context of culture in which it originates.

This is distinct in statistical infrequency as depression and anxiety disorders may be more frequent in some cultures, yet not present in others. This may be due to a reflection of cultural differences in seeking help for disorders rather than variations in their occurrences.

Cultural relativism also applies to deviation from social norms, as it can seem to be a case of cultural blindness in attempting to diagnose abnormality. E.g. the characteristics of the ‘white’ society are treated as a norm whilst behaviour of other cultures may be understood as a case of abnormality.

Within cultures there are sub-cultures i.e. gender, race, social hierarchy. This can effect definitions of abnormality as mental disorders can rarely rely dependently on the sub-culture of the individual. E.g. women experiencing depression are more vulnerable to this than men, due to the role of hormones, in conjunction with pre menstrual stress.

Furthermore, the attempts to define psychological abnormality are very much influenced by different cultures and underlying factors. Therefore we cannot say that one definition is correct as they all differ and are not precise in the way they measure abnormality.


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