Definitions of Abnormality


– Occurs when an individual has a less common characteristic.

– This model argues that behaviours that are statistically rare should be seen as abnormal.

– What is regarded as statistically rare depends on normal distribution; most people will be around the mean which is called normal distribution

– Usually any behaviour that has less than 5% of the population showing it is perceived as being abnormal.


– Intellectual disability disorder can be identified using this model.

– The average IQ is sear at 100, and only 2% of people fall below 70.

– These individuals may be diagnosed with this disorder as such a low IQ is infrequent.



Real Life Application

– A strength of the statistical deviation disorder is that it has real-life application in the diagnosis of intellectual disability disorder.

– There is therefore a place for statistical infrequency in thinking about what are normal and abnormal behaviours and characteristics.

– Actually all the assessments of patients with mental disorders include some kind of measurement of how severe the symptoms are as compared to statistical norms

– Statistical infrequency is a useful part of clinical assessment

– This allows for an objective and value free assessment of the level of mental disability being experienced.


Cultural Relativism

– An issue is that behaviours that are statistically infrequent in one culture may be statistically more frequent another.

– For example, one of the symptoms of schizophrenia is claiming to hear voices.

– However, it’s an experience that is common and average in some cultures.

– So in practice there are no universal standards or rules for labelling a behaviour as abnormal.

– This is ethnocentric as you are judging another culture from the views of your own and labelling it as statistically infrequent and abnormal


– A criticism of statistical infrequency is that the cut-off point is subjective.

– If abnormality is defined in terms of statistical infrequency, we need to decide where to separate normality from abnormality.

– For example, one of the symptoms of depression is difficulty sleeping.

– Some people might think that abnormal sleep is less than 6 hours a night on average, but others think the cut off should be 5 hours.

– Such disagreement means it is difficult to define abnormality in terms of statistical infrequency.

– Therefore, statistical infrequency is not objective and it is hard to define abnormality against it


– Anyone who behaves differently from socially created norms is classed as abnormal

– Concerns behaviour that is different from the accepted standards of behaviour in a community or society.

– The definition draws a line between socially desirable and undesirable behaviours, labelling those who do not adhere to what society deems as acceptable at that period in times as mentally abnormal.


– In the past, homosexuality was classed as abnormal and regarded as a mental disorder.

– It was also against the law in the UK.

– This judgement was based on social deviation, it was a judgement made by society.

– The reason that such behaviours are judges than normal is because they deviate from social norms of what is acceptable



Can Raise Concern

– This definition does distinguish between desirable and undesirable behaviour which was absent from the sister calling frequency model.

– The social deviance model also takes into account the effect that behaviour has on others.

– Deviance is defined as in terms of transgression from social rules and they are established in order to help people live together.

– According to this definition abnormal behaviour is behaviour that damages others. T

– his definition, offers a practical and useful way of identifying undesirable a potentially damaging behaviour, which may alert others to the need to secure help for the person concerned


Not a Full Explanation

– Another limitation is that judgements on deviance are often related to the context of a behaviour.

– For example, a person on a beach wearing next to nothing is regarded as normal, whereas the same outfit in the classroom or at a formal gathering would be regarded as abnormal and possibly an indication of a mental disorder.

– Shouting loudly and persistently is deviant behaviour but not evidence of mental disturbance unless it is excessive, and even then it might be not be a mental disorder.

– This means that social deviance on its own cannot offer a complete definition of abnormality, because it is inevitably related to both context and degree.

Cultural Relativism

– Attempting to define abnormality in terms of social norms is bound by culture and time because social norms are defined by the culture.

– Classification systems, such as a DSM, are almost entirely based on the social norms of the dominant culture in the west

– Yet the same criteria are applied to people from different cut subcultures living in the west.

– For example, until 1990 homosexuality was classified as a mental illness and sufferers were often subjected to barbaric treatments as a result.

– This means that we cannot truly define any certain act as ‘abnormal’ because as norms change so must our beliefs about what constitutes’ ‘abnormal’ behaviour.


– Occurs when someone is unable to cope with ordinary demands of day-to-day living.

– Such as eating, washing and going to work

– This behaviour is considered abnormal when it causes distress leading to dysfunction.

– In order to assess the degree of dysfunction, Rosenhan and Seligman identified some features of abnormality

– When a person no longer conforms to standard societal rules (eg maintaining eye contact)

– When a person experiences severe person distresses

– When a person’s behaviour becomes irrational or dangerous

– The more features are shown, the more abnormal they are.


– Depression can lead to sufferers not maintaining their hygiene or being able to leave their bed which means that they can’t cope with the demands of everyday life

– This means that they fail to function adequately



Patients Perspective

– Attempts to include the subjective experience of the individual

– Allows the assessment of the degree of abnormality

– The more symptoms the sufferer shows the more abnormal they are

– Therefore, practitioners can decide who needs psychiatric help for their mental abnormality.


Subjective Judgements

– There is a problem over deciding who has the right to define behaviour as dysfunctional

– For example, what may be seen as irrational and unpredictable to one person may not seem so to another

– Therefore, a limitation of this approach is that the judgement depends on who is making the decision

Cultural Relativism

– Definitions of adequate functioning are related to cultural ideas of how one’s life should be lived

– The criteria is likely to result in different diagnoses when applied to people from different culture

– The standard of one culture is being used to measure another, which is ethnocentric

– This may explain why lower class and non-white patients are more often diagnosed with mental disorders

– This means that the use of this model is limited by its cultural relativism


– Occurs when someone does not meet a set of criteria for good mental health.

– Rather than identifying what is abnormal, Jahoda identified six characteristics of what is to be normal and an absence of these characteristics indicated abnormality

– High self esteem

– Personal growth and self-actualisation

– Integration and able to cope with stress

– Being independent

– Having an accurate perception of reality

– The ability to love and function at work and in relationships

– The more they fail to meet, the further away from normality they are.

– This definition therefore perceives mental abnormality in a similar way to the perception of physical health and looks for an absence of wellbeing.


– For example, depression illustrates this definition as sufferers generally have low self-esteem, they can struggle to make decisions and they experience high levels of stress concerning their low mood condition.



Positive Approach

– Focuses on what is desirable rather than what is undesirable

– Offers an alternative perspective on mental disorders that focuses on the ideal.

– This approach also influenced the humanistic approach and positive psychology

– The strength of this approach is that its positive outlook this approach


Unrealistic criteria

– The majority of people do not meet the criteria of ideal mental health

– This means that the majority of people are ‘abnormal’, however this is the opposite of abnormal as it is normal

– Therefore, if this criteria is used then it would be hard to identify abnormality

Cultural Relativism

– This criteria is culture bound

– For example, self-actualisation is more relevant to individualistic cultures than collectivistic cultures who care more about the needs of the group not themselves

– If we were to apply this criteria to other cultures then we would find a higher percentage of abnormality

– This criteria is therefore ethnocentric as it judges other cultures from the point of view of its own

– This criteria can only be generalised to the culture that it was created in

– Therefore, this limits the usefulness of this definition to certain cultural groups