Defining Abnormality: Key Elements in Clinical Diagnosis

In 1998, Rosenhan & Seligman proposed seven key elements that are commonly present in most definitions of abnormality. These elements provide a framework for understanding and identifying behaviors and mental states that deviate from societal norms. The seven elements encompass suffering, maladaptiveness, irrationality and incomprehensibility, unpredictability and loss of control, vividness and unconventionality, observer discomfort, and violation of moral and ideal standards.

Suffering and Its Significance in Clinical Abnormality

Suffering, as delineated by Rosenhan & Seligman, refers to an individual's self-reported distress or sense of inner turmoil.

It becomes a crucial element in diagnosing clinical abnormality as it offers a window into the subjective experience of the individual. For instance, a person persistently feeling overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, or anxiety may signal an underlying mental health issue such as depression or generalized anxiety disorder. Recognizing and acknowledging this subjective suffering aids in early intervention and appropriate treatment.

Moreover, the expression of suffering may vary among individuals. While some might overtly communicate their distress, others might manifest it through subtle behavioral changes or withdrawal from social activities.

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Therefore, understanding the nuances of suffering is imperative in comprehending the spectrum of mental health conditions and ensuring timely support for those in distress.

Vividness and Unconventionality: A Fundamental Indicator of Abnormal Behavior

The element of vividness and unconventionality underscores behaviors or thought processes that significantly deviate from societal norms. This can encompass a broad spectrum of behaviors, ranging from unconventional speech patterns in individuals with schizophrenia to severe dietary restrictions in those suffering from anorexia nervosa. It serves as a critical component in identifying abnormality, as it highlights the divergence of an individual's actions from what is considered typical or expected within a cultural context.

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Notably, vividness and unconventionality stand as a fundamental principle in recognizing mental disorders. When an individual's behavior markedly differs from the norm and affects their functioning or well-being, it necessitates a thorough assessment to ascertain whether an underlying mental health condition exists. Proper diagnosis and intervention based on this element aid in mitigating the adverse impacts of mental health disorders.

Unpredictability and Loss of Control: Indicative Behaviors of Mental Health Disorders

Unpredictability and loss of control manifest as behaviors that are erratic, inappropriate, or beyond an individual's ability to manage. These behaviors may surface in various contexts, such as social settings or daily routines, signifying a lack of regulation or constraint over one's actions or expressions. For instance, an individual experiencing mental retardation might exhibit uncontrollable vocalizations in settings demanding silence, reflecting their inability to modulate their speech patterns.

This element serves as a conspicuous indicator of potential mental health disorders. When behaviors indicate a lack of control or coherence, it prompts further evaluation to discern underlying psychological conditions that might require intervention or therapeutic support. Recognizing and addressing such manifestations of unpredictability and loss of control are pivotal in offering appropriate assistance and understanding the complexity of mental health conditions.


While all seven elements delineated by Rosenhan & Seligman contribute to defining abnormality, vividness and unconventionality, unpredictability and loss of control, and suffering stand out as pivotal factors in determining clinical abnormality. These elements provide critical insights into the diverse manifestations of mental health disorders, guiding clinicians and caregivers in recognizing, assessing, and addressing individuals experiencing mental distress or deviation from societal norms.

Enhancing awareness and understanding of these elements is essential in promoting mental health literacy, fostering empathy, and offering effective support systems for individuals grappling with mental health challenges. By embracing a comprehensive approach that considers these elements, society can better accommodate and assist those affected by mental health disorders, fostering a more inclusive and compassionate environment.

Updated: Dec 29, 2023
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Defining Abnormality: Key Elements in Clinical Diagnosis. (2016, Dec 26). Retrieved from

Defining Abnormality: Key Elements in Clinical Diagnosis essay
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