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CH1 Textbook Notes

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- the study of abnormal psychology is the study of people who suffer mental, emotional,
and often physical pain as a result of some form of psychological or mental disorder,
often referred to as psychopathology
Defining Abnormality
- context, or circumstances surrounding a behaviour, influences whether a behaviour is
viewed as abnormal
Cultural Relativism
- there are no universal standards or rules for labelling a behaviour as abnormal
- behaviours can only be abnormal relative to cultural norms; there are different
definitions of abnormality across cultures
- e.g. bereavement practices
- in Western countries, norm is to break emotional bonds with dead loves ones,
people who havent adequately broken those bonds may be labelled as abnormal
- in Japan, maintaining emotional bonds with deceased loves ones is normal
- in Egypt, the bereaved are encouraged to dwell profusely on their grief
- opponents to cultural relativism argue that dangers arise when societal norms are
allowed to dictate what is normal and abnormal
- throughout history, societies have labelled individuals and groups abnormal in
order to justify controlling or silencing them
- e.g. when slave trade was active in the US, slaves who tried to escape
could be diagnosed with drapetomania, a sickness that caused them to
desire freedom
- gender role expectations heavily influence the labelling of behaviour
- e.g. aggression in men and chronic anxiety or sadness in women are often
dismissed as normal because they dont violate gender roles
- behaviour that are unusual or rare are considered abnormal, whereas behaviours that
are typical or usual, are considered normal
- problem: someone must decide how rare a behaviour must be to call it abnormal
- choosing a cut-off is as subjective as relying on personal opinions as to what is
abnormal and normal
- many rare behaviours are positive for the individual and for society, and most people
would object to labelling such behaviour as abnormal
- e.g. a piano virtuoso we would label gifted

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- some people have hobbies/activities that are rare but are a source of great joy for
them and do no harm to others, eccentrics”
- behaviours should be considered abnormal only if the individual suffers discomfort and
wishes to be rid of the behaviour
- this viewpoint contributed to changing how psychologists and psychiatrists view
- gay men and lesbians have argued that their sexual orientation is a natural part of
themselves and a characteristic that causes them no discomfort and that they dont
wish to alter or eliminate
- 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of
recognized psychological disorders
- problem: people are not always aware of problems their behaviours create for
themselves or for others
- some peoples behaviours cause great discomfort in others, if not in themselves
Mental Illness
- there is a clear, identifiable physical process that differs from health that leads to
specific behaviours or symptoms
- however, to date, there is no biological test available to diagnose any of the types of
abnormality discussed in textbook
- many theorists believe that most mental-health problems are due to a number of
complex biological and psychosocial factor
- behaviours and feelings that cause people to suffer distress and that prevent them from
functioning in daily life
- three Ds: dysfunction, distress, deviance
- criteria still call for subjective judgment
- culture, and gender can still influence the expression of those behaviours and the way
those behaviours are treated
- culture and gender influence
- how likely given maladaptive behaviours will be shown
- the ways people express distress or lose touch with reality
- peoples willingness to admit to certain types of maladaptive behaviours
- types of treatments deemed acceptable or helpful for maladaptive
Historical Perspectives on Abnormality
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