Examine the concepts of normality and abnormality

What is normal?

Powerpoint: what-is-normal

Card sort activity (also smart show on drive): am-i-normal-card-sort

Powerpoint: defining-abnormality-3

Deviance from statistical norms 

Behaviours, emotional reactions and patterns of thinking which are statistically rare (atypical) or deviate from the statistical average or norm are classified as abnormal. The statistical definition hinges on the idea that abnormality can be measured using quantitative data and thus one individual can be compared with another. Statistical norms are established using a normal distribution curve which illustrates the fact that most people, (approx 95%) score between one and two standard deviation above or below the mean average. This leaves just over 2% of people who score unusually high or low and these people would be classed as abnormal because they are not typical of most people.
When diagnosing depression for example, a structured interview or questionnaire including closed questions may be used and quantitative data can be derived; once the practitioner has calculated the individual’s ‘score’, this can be compared to statistical norms and a decision made about whether the person has a score which is high/low enough to be classed as abnormal.
With regard to intelligence the standard deviation is 15 and the average is 100, this means that anyone who scores over 130 or under 70 will be classed as abnormal since these scores are two standard deviations above and below the mean.
How will we learn about this definition in the classroom?
To prepare for your class, you will also need to to consult the following handout:…Statistical infrequency handout.doc
In class we will complete the following activities:
How can we evaluate this definition?

Deviance from social norms

Every society has patterns of socially acceptable/desirable behaviour. Deviation from these social norms can attract negative attention from others and may lead to rejection and labelling as ‘abnormal’.

Since the outcome of attracting attention in this way tends to be negative, we tend to automatically be wary of such individuals; humans are social animals and when they actively enact behaviours which lead to rejection, this is seen as abnormal.
Behaviour which is labelled as harmless, may not lead to such labelling, but when behaviour is judged to be anti-social, dangerous or against the society’s moral values, then the individual and/or their behaviour may be labelled as abnormal
An example of this would be antisocial personality disorder or psychopathy, one the symptoms of which is ‘failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviours as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest’.
Social norms are dependent upon several factors including culture, context or situation, age and gender and historical context and thus the label of abnormal cannot be made in isolation and some detail s about the individual and his or social environment are necessary, behaviour is viewed within a socio-cultural context.

Limitations of social norms definition

 Limitation 1: Social norms are era and culture dependent rendering it impossible under this definition to make comparisons cross-cultural or longitudinal comparisons of rates of psychological abnormality.

For example, in 1968 the DSM (II) classed homosexuals as sexual deviants; today gay marriage is legal in the UK and although prejudice still exists, homosexuality is no longer a synonymous with mental disorder.

Likewise, in Catholic Ireland as recently as the 60s and 70s, bearing a child out of wedlock or disclosing sexual abuse was enough to gain a diagnosis of mental instability, leading to incarceration in a psychiatric hospital and brutal ECT and drug therapies.

Limitation 2: This definition does not consider the outcomes of the rejection of social norms and how these impact on whether a behaviour is defined as abnormal or not. Rejection of social norms may in fact lead to favourable outcomes for the individual. For example, some people who reject social norms may simply be eccentric and enjoy the attention which comes with standing out from the crowd, others may reject the prevailing norms the majority in favour of a more non-conformist lifestyle due to their religious or other beliefs. This choice may in fact facilitate self-actualization and improves self attitudes and self esteem.






clip from the changeling; admission to psych ward
another changeling clip; involuntary sedation
and another; “eating is normal”

Research evidence:

Model essaydefs-of-abnormality-essay1-1

Readings: vce_normality-1

The 4Ds of diagnosis

Possible exams questions:

“Discuss concepts of normality and abnormality (22)” May 2014