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ELIZABETH WIDDER 12MTU 1

Examine the concepts of normality and abnormality.


Within abnormal psychology, both the concept of abnormality and
normality must be understood. Abnormal can be described as the
deviation from social norms and the ideal mental health, which leads to an
inability to function normally. Subsequently, normality is the absence of
these deviations; it is the possessing of behavior centered around the
mean, or typical, behavior. Consequently there are concepts that refer to
normality which are used to describe normal behavior such as, an absence
of mental disease, a positive perception of oneself, as well as the ability to
cope with stress.
Normality and abnormality fall on a spectrum, it is unclear of when a
behavior moves out of the classification of normal and it moves into an
abnormal classification. Rosenhan challenged this idea in an experiment,
where he and nine other participants checked themselves into a mental
hospital by complaining of the same symptoms of hearing the words
empty, hollow and thud. Once they were admitted (which they all
were deemed insane), the patients acted normally and told the doctors
they no longer heard these words. Despite claiming to be normal, doctors
prescribed the patients an average of 15 pills a day, and the length of stay
before being dismissed ranged from 7-52 days. Normal behaviors of the
pseudo-patients began to be warped by the medical staff, and the
behaviors were treated as abnormal, such as note taking as excessive
pathological writing. This misconception of behaviors is what makes the
line blurred in the spectrum of normality and abnormality. It also supports
the idea that once labeled with a mental illness, all other behavior
(whether normal or abnormal) is because of the disease.
One of the concepts of abnormality, deviation of the statistical norm, can
also demonstrate the limitations of the classification of abnormality.
Abnormality may be the deviation from the average of the behavior
exhibited by others; however, sometimes an abnormality can be desirable.
A high IQ, although unusual is something someone would ideally want. Yet
in the terms of abnormal psychology, and the deviation of the norm, a
high IQ could be classified as abnormal. What the classification lacks is the
separation between simply uncommon behaviors and mentally abnormal
behaviors. Desirable and undesirable traits are unable to be distinguished
in this method. Without this distinguishment, deviation from statistical
average implies that the person has a mental disease. The statistical
infrequency can also have negative ethical implications such as labeling
and discrimination to those who do not fall within the statistical norm, as
they are unexpected. In extreme cases the discrimination can lead to
violation of human rights and cause controversy.
Another concept used to define abnormality is the deviation from social
norms. This differs to statistical norms as normality is gaged and
determined by the standards of social behavior, and takes culture and
time into consideration. Although abnormality and mental disorders are an

etic occurrence, the ways in which these mental sufferings are diagnosed
and experienced can be emic. Behaviors such as homosexuality, although
new and not yet the social norm, is not classified as an abnormality in the
sense of mental disorders. In the case of homosexuality and many other
behaviors, there are other variables that affect the acceptability of the
behavior and its classification of normality. Factors such as situation,
morals, age and culture all affect the diagnosis and the perception of what
is considered cross the threshold from normal to abnormal. Pressure of the
society can also affect the perception is both ways; the society can use
peer pressure to make people participate in rituals that are not the norm,
but with the added pressure they become the norm, or can pressure
people to have set opinions that for the concept of abnormality.
Deviations can be regarded as normal in some cultures, where in another
place, may be considered as abnormal. The most prominent support of
this is culture-bound-syndromes. Culture-bound-syndromes, or CBS, are
mental diseases that only exist within certain cultures. The CBS often
have origins or explanations that come from traditions or folklore related
to the culture and society. One example of a CBS is Ghost Sickness
experienced by the Native American Indians, particularly of the Navajo
tribe, in which moderately common symptoms such as loss of appetite,
feeling of suffocation and nightmares, are explained by the presence of
ghosts due to an improper burial of a deceased. Many other cultures
experience similar symptoms, yet have different explanations for the
sickness. Most of the time in the culture where the sickness is present, the
society does not see it as abnormal behavior. As they have such deeprooted explanations for the illness, they do not perceive it as an
abnormality. The cultural dimensions of the country also affect the
classification of abnormal. In an individualistic society, people are more
open to behaviors that could be described as oddities. In a collectivist
culture, people are so centered around the mean behaviors, any deviation
would be classified strongly as abnormal, as it would be more unexpected
that in a different setting.
Another concept of abnormality is when the behavior begins to affect
everyday life, and is called maladaptiveness. When a behavior, often grief
or depression, reaches a point where is disrupts the ability to function
normally within society, it is considered to be abnormal. The dysfunction
within society suggests that the behavior, whereas could be acceptable
and expected in normal quantities, in large quantities that it is an
abnormality. The most common behavior in relation to maladaptiveness is
grief, often in the case of a death. Although mourning is acceptable and
anticipated, again it is judging when the line is crossed and the behavior
begins to show abnormality due to its prolonged status.
Psychologist Horwitz criticized the concept of abnormality as its definition
was constantly changing. He argued that as there was to definitive
explanation, it was instead a method that constantly changed to fit what
psychologist had encountered, rather than a set definition that then helps

ELIZABETH WIDDER 12MTU 3


to classify and organize the behaviors of individuals. Another argument
against the concept of abnormality is the diagnosis and statistical manual
(DSM), which aids the diagnosis of mental disorders. Currently on the 5th
edition of the mass publication, the constant revisions of what is
considered abnormal, and what is consequently acceptable and normal
suggests again the lack of definitiveness to the terms normal and
abnormal.
In the broadcast of the experiment How Mad are You? psychologists
studied a group of 10 participants, 5 of whom were considered normal and
5 of whom who were recovering from previous mental disorders. The three
psychiatrists over 5 days assigned tasks to the participants to attempt to
guess whom the ill patients are. The thin line between normalcy and
abnormality is again exemplified as the professionals were only able to
correctly identify 2 out of the 5 abnormal participants. In the process they
also miss-diagnosed 2 participants, one with a speculation of a serious
case of schizophrenia, when she did not have any history of mental
illness. Two abnormal participants were left undetected until they cam
forward. This suggests the lack of credibility to the diagnosis of
abnormality, especially in the remission period. Clearly this contributes to
the discussion of the similarities and the faint distinction to the two black
and white descriptors for the clearly gray spectrum of the concepts.
An extremist approach of the concept of abnormality is taken up by
psychologists who are members of the anti-psychiatry movement.
The movement is the disbelief of the concept of abnormality at all.
One psychologist, Thomas Szasz stated that abnormality was a
myth, and it was a method for which psychologists made a rule to
cope with people who they could not handle. The anti-psychiatry
movement also challenges the spectrum of normality, suggesting
that each person has a right to their own personality, and those who
are slightly more eccentric or unusual have been grouped and boxed
by medical professionals who wish not to deal with their behaviors.
Although an extremist approach, the movement has gathered many
followers, and recovered patients go to the lengths of calling
themselves survivors of their diagnosis.
Clearly, the concepts of abnormality are constantly criticized for lack of
clarity in their definition. The concepts regarding abnormality, the
maladaptiveness of behavior, the deviation of statistical and social
norms and dysfunction in daily lives all contribute to the
understanding and the ability to classify abnormal behaviors. The
most confusing aspect of the two classifications is the blurred lines
that separate the two from each other. There are so many factors
that contribute to the interpretations and hence the implications of
the diagnosis of the abnormal from the normal. Like in Rosenhans
experiment, it is understandable where the difficulty in determining
abnormality came from.