Psychological Definitions of Abnormal Behavior Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 20 November 2016

Psychological Definitions of Abnormal Behavior

According to the science of psychology one’s behavior needs to follow a certain criteria in order to be deemed “normal”. If one’s behavior does not match the criteria, their behavior is seen as undesirable and wrong (requires change). For this physiologists need to be able to view a person’s behavior and be able to tell the difference between normal and abnormal. Whilst defining the “normality” of ones behavior physiologists need to be careful to remain objective and as free of any bias as possible, furthermore their experiment to determine ones behavior needs to be repeatable and reliable. In order to do this psychologists often consults the characteristics of ideal mental health proposed by Marie Jahoda in 1958. Marie Jahoda proposed 6 different characteristics for ideal mental health after surveying different doctors and psychologists; this is the list she came up with:

* Positive self esteem and a strong sense of identity
* Personal growth and development
* Ability to cope with stressful situations (integration)
* Autonomy and independence
* Accurate perception of reality
* Successful mastery of the environment, particularly relationships.

Jahoda argued that if one does not meet these criteria then ones behavior can be deemed abnormal as a result of an existing problem. This in my opinion provides a strong applicable foundation for the determination of ones “normality” of behavior. However the problem with Jahoda’s ideal mental health scheme is the fact that the results obtained rely solely on the observer’s judgment, therefore presenting a inevitable bias not to mention the fact that no person can truly ever meet all of the suggested criteria. This mean that according to Jahoda every person is abnormal.

Another way to look for abnormal behavior for psychologists is to find deviation form the social norm (majority). This is done by observing ones actions in public and seeing how normal it is. For example if you see someone wearing a bikini/swim trunks whilst walking around a supermarket, his or her behavior would be deemed as abnormal. The limitations of observing behavior in this manor lay in the fact that different cultures have different norms. Not to mention the fact that in any given culture norms evolve. What may have once been acceptable in the 80’s is not necessarily acceptable today.

Abnormality of one’s behavior can also be monitored by looking at its statistical frequency. Meaning how common ones behavior is when compared to the rest of the public. If one’s behavior is shared by many it is deemed common and therefore “normal”, however if ones behavior is uncommon or rare, it is deemed abnormal. For example one may say that an individual who has an IQ below or above the average level of IQ in society is abnormal. The problem with this system is the fact that, it does not account for the desirability of the given behavior. In other words this system claims that both low and high IQ’s are an abnormality that need to be treated.

Physiologists and others interested in “normality”, look over at ones behavior to see how well they can function. If one is unable to function adequately they are deemed abnormal. In order to determine how well one functions, psychologists consult Rosenhan and Seligman’s list of characteristics that define abnormality (1989). Rosenhan and Seligman argued that in order to classify someone as “inadequate in life” they must meet several of the characteristics as a pose to only one. This is their list:

* Suffering
* Maladaptiveness (danger to self)
* Vividness & unconventionality (stands out)
* Unpredictably & loss of control
* Irrationality/incomprehensibility
* Causes observer discomfort
* Violates moral/social standards

The possible limitation to Rosenhan and Seligman’s list of characteristics is the fact that “normal” people engage in activates which are potentially harmful like drinking or smoking, these people are not classed as abnormal. It is very difficult to classify behavior as to date no scheme to do so exists, which is perfect. Physiologists must tread carefully when labeling one with a disorder. Bias will always be present in one form or another, however the results can be deemed reliable if practicing psychologists consult multiple schemes in order to have a better chance of an accurate diagnosis.


* Class handout “abnormal?” Mrs campion.
* “DefiningAbnormality.” AS Psychology /. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. <>. * “Abnormal Psychology.” Abnormal Psychology. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. <>.

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