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CHAPTER 1 LOOKING AT ABNORMALITY
- 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
Unusualness
- 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”
Discomfort
- 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
homosexuality
- 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
Maladaptiveness
- 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
behaviours
Historical Perspectives on Abnormality
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Document Summary

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. Context, or circumstances surrounding a behaviour, influences whether a behaviour is viewed as abnormal. 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. In western countries, norm is to break emotional bonds with dead loves ones, people who haven"t 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.

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