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What are the four definitions of abnormality?

Deviation from social norms

Statistical Frequency

Deviation from ideal mental health

Failure to function adequately


Definition for Deviation from social norms

Social norms are rules or guidelines for what are considered socially acceptable behaviours, beliefs and attitudes within any one culture. This definition argues that anyone who deviates from these social norms may be regarded as abnormal.


Criticisms of deviation from social norm definition of abnormality

This definition is limited by cultural and historical relativism. This means that definitions of what is socially normal and abnormal vary through culture and history. For example, in many countries homosexuality is still illegal and until 1973 in the UK it was listed as a mental disorder on DSM. Today, homosexuality in the UK is not viewed as a deviation.

The definition does not take in account of context e.g. being semi-naked on a beach is judged okay whereas it is not at a funeral. Also that certain socially abnormal behaviours are considered 'eccentric' e.g. having multiple facial piercings, whilst others are definitely regarded as a sign of mental disorder such as holding a loud conversation with oneself in public.


What is the definition of Statistical Infrequency definition of abnormality?

Any behaviours that are statistically infrequent in society can be regarded as abnormal. In the same way that most people have fairly average shoe size, height or weight, psychological characteristics and behaviours generally fall within a statistically frequent norm.

Examples of statistically infrequent behaviours may be experiencing aural hallucinations, feeling suicidal or refusing to eat.


Criticisms of the Statistical infrequency definition of abnormality?

This definition does not distinguish between statistically infrequent behaviours which are regarded as desirable and undesirable. This definition should really focus on infrequent and undesirable behaviours which require treatment.

There is no definite way of defining how far an individual must deviate from statically frequent behaviours to be defined as abnormal, for example at what point are negative emotions defined as abnormal and labeled as the mental disorder depression? The cut-off point at which a behaviour is judged to be abnormal is subjective as a result of personal interpretation.


What is the definition of Abnormality deviation from ideal mental health?

Jahoda identified several criteria relating to mental health. He argued that if these weren't met an individual could be considered abnormal:

Positive attitudes to self

Resistance to stress

Self-actualisation of one's potential

Environmental master

Accurate perception of reality


Criticisms of the definition of abnormality deviation from ideal mental health?

It is likely that most people do not fulfil these criteria all of the time. We are all capable of lacking self-confidence, suffering from stress, distorting our perception of reality. This definition implies, therefore, that we are all abnormal at times.

This definition is limited by cultural and historical relativism. This means that definitions of what is ideal mental health vary from culture to culture and time. An example is homosexuality was illegal until 1973 in the UK, whereas today homosexuality is not viewed as a deviation.


What is the definition of abnormality failure to function adequately?

This definition covers a range of behaviours that might be seen as 'signs' or symptoms of mental disorders such as feeling anxious or depressed, sleeplessness, loss of motivation, bizarre, unexpected or inappropriate behaviours or emotional responses. If these behaviours start to interfere with worker relationships, looking after oneself, the individual may be defined as abnormal.


Criticisms of the definition of abnormality failure to function adequately

Whilst this definition may be useful in identifying individuals suffering from mental disorders, these behaviours may also be logical response to situations e.g. feeling depressed after the death of loved one or due to unemployment is a normal emotional response as long as it doesn't continue for an excessively long period after the event.

Psychiatrists and families may make definitions of others as failing to function adequately when the individuals themselves do not feel they are abnormal. Thus there is a danger than individuals who'd display non-conformist or eccentric behaviours may be labelled as mental ill when they are in fact just different to others.


How do behaviourists explain phobias?

Behaviourists argue that all behaviours are learnt through interaction with events in the environment. The behaviours which characteristics the symptoms of mental disorders are acquired in the same way as any other behaviour (CC,OC and SLT.


Classical conditioning explanation for phobias?

Behaviours are acquired through 'stimulus-response' associations: e.g. an event in the environment will cause a physiological effect such as a fear.

For example, repeated negative experiences with dogs may lead to a phobic response.


Study supporting classical condition explanation for phobias?

Watson's 20 Little Albert study.

He classically conditioned a phobia of a white rat in an 11-month boy named Little Albert.

At the beginning of the study he showed no fear of white fluffy objects such as cotton wool, a white rat and a white rabbit these were neutral stimuli. Watson presented the white rat to Albert whilst scaring him by banging metal bars together to create a frightening noise. This was done 3 times then repeated a week later. From then on, whenever Albert was shown the white rat without the noise he began to cry. He generalised this fear to other similar white, fluffy objects. Thus Watson claimed phobias were classically conditioned through negative stimulus-response associations between objects and fear.


Operant condition explaining phobias.

Phobias are maintained through operant condition. When a behaviour is reinforced it is more likely to be repeated. Avoidance of phobic objects is rewarding because we avoid the fear we believe they will cause. This is an example of negative reinforcement, being rewarded for escaping an unpleasant situation.


Social learning theory explanation phobias.

SLT would also emphasise how fears can be learnt from parents via observations and imitation. An infant may either:

Simply imitate a behaviour: e.g. mother's phobic behaviour (modelling)


imitate a behaviour because they expect a reward this is called vicarious learning.

For example seeing one's mother being given care after a phobic response so imitating her hoping to receive the same reward.


Criticise behaviourist explanation for OCD.

Many people had bad experiences with stimuli but do not go on to develop a phobia, and many people develop a phobia despite having no previously negative experiences with their phobic object. Behavioural explanations argue that we develop phobias of objects we have frightening experiences with e.g. cars, guns, electricity. However, phobias of these stimuli are extremely rare and despite the fact that most people rarely encounter snakes this phobia is very common.

Fears may be evolutionarily determined and genetically inherited to help us avoid and escape potentially dangerous situations and animals. This seems clear from the fact that the most common phobias, snakes, spiders, rats, heights, darkness etc are potentially dangerous.

Seligman used the concept of 'biological preparedness' when examining phobias. He found that rats could be easily conditioned to avoid life-threatening stimuli such as toxic liquids or electric shocks, but could not be easily conditioned to avoid non-harmful stimuli such as flashing lights. This provides evidence against Behavioural explanations in that it seems to suggest that phobias are innate, not learnt, and it explains why particular types of phobia are more common.


Biological approach to treating OCD.

Biological approach employs drugs to re-balance imbalances in neurotransmitters to treat OCD.


What three drugs are used to treat OCD in the Biological approach?

Antidepressants SSRI's

Antidepressants Tricyclics



How are SSRI's used to treat OCD?

To combat low levels of serotonin, SSRI'S have the effect of increasing levels of serotonin. When serotonin molecules cross the gap between neurons they trigger receptor cells on the adjacent neuron and then are re-absorbed into the neuron which released them.

SSRIs reduce the amount of re-absorption, thus increasing amount of serotonin available which acts to increase mood and decrease OCD behaviours.


How are Tricyclics used to treat OCD?

Tricyclics block the re-absorption of serotonin and nor adrenaline leaving more of these neurotransmitters available. This produces similar effects on mood and decreasing OCD behaviours but tricyclics have more side-effects than SSRIs do so are only used if SSRIs have not been effective.


How do Benzodiazepines treat OCD?

BZ's slow down the activity of the CNS and thus reduce anxiety which is a main symptom of OCD.

BZs enhance the action of a neurotransmitter called GABA which is the body's natural form of anxiety relief by binding to special sites on the GABA receptor, thus boosting the action of GABA. This allows more chloride ions to enter the neuron, making it even more resistant to excitation and making the person feel calmer and less anxious.


Strengths of OCD treatments via the biological approach.

Soomro (08) conducted a meta-analysis of 17 studies using SSRIs with OCD and found them more effective than placebos in reducing symptoms for 3months following treatment.

One of the benefits of using drugs for OCD is that the therapy requires little effort from the user. For example, psychological therapies such as CBT requires a lot of time, effort and motivation on the part of the client. Thus, drug therapies may be beneficial for those who do not have the motivation to engage with psychological therapies of emergency cases who require quick, immediate treatments e.g. those at risk of suicide.


Limitations of biological treatment of OCD

Can cause addiction, it was recognised in the 1970s that dependency may occur with Benzodiazepines. Patients taking even low-doses of BZs show marked withdrawal symptoms when they stopped taking them. Due to these addictions problems there is a recommendation that the use of BZs should be limited to a maximum of 4 weeks.

Treats the symptoms rather than the problem, drugs may be effective at treating symptoms of OCD such as stress and anxiety but the effect only lasts while the person is taking the drug. In cases of chronic OCD it may be preferable to seek psychological treatment that addressed the underlying problem that is causing OCD. Thus, drugs offer only a superficial, temporary, short-term solution.

Side effects of BZs include aggressiveness, memory impairment LTM.