Concepts of Normal and Abnormal Behaviour

4069 words (16 pages) Essay in Psychology

23/09/19 Psychology Reference this

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The term typical and atypical behaviour is the psychological definition for the term normal and abnormal behaviour. Abnormal is any behaviour that is not typical or usual (that is infrequent) is by definition abnormal.

Normal behaviour is average.

However, the statistical criterion does not help to distinguish between a typical behaviour that is good or at least acceptable and one which is undesirable and acceptable. For example, creative genius (such as Picasso’s) and megalomania (such as Hitler’s) are both statically rare (and according to this criterion, abnormal), but the former would be rated as much more desirable than the later (AQA Psychology for A Level). Thus, the statistical criterion appears to be neither necessary nor sufficient as a way of defining abnormality. Refer to appendix 1.2.

Modern judgements of abnormality are not based on any one criterion. Instead, it is influenced by the interaction of the four Ds which are: dysfunction, distress, deviance, and danger.

Although no one definition about abnormality is agreed upon there is 4 general characteristic that is generally acceptable. See the table below for an outline of the 4Ds.

Dysfunctional (maladaptation to environmental conditions)

Behaviours and feelings are dysfunctional when they interfere with the person’s capacity to function in day to day life, to secure a job, or form relationships. Dysfunction interfered with the belief of a behaviour getting in the way of living a normal life (which the statistical definition of deviance ignores), but it is a bit more objective than satisfying to social norms. For example, in the case of a person’s sexuality is unusual to other people, and they can still lead a healthy life then they are not abnormal.

The problem with this is that abnormal behaviour may be helpful for the individual. For example, taking drugs might help people with stressful jobs or help artists unlock their creativity. There might be some social groups were not taking drugs is dysfunctional behaviour.

Also, many people engage in behaviour that is unhealthy, but we do not class them as abnormal: for example, adrenaline sports, smoking, drinking alcohol and driving too fast.


Deviances are behaviours and emotions that are viewed as unacceptable.

Deviance is a behaviour that is statistically rare or in violation of societal standards or norms.

A behaviour can be considered abnormal when it violates social norms or makes others anxious. This definition is problematic. Cultural diversity affects how people view social norms: what is perceived as usual is one culture may be regarded as abnormal in another.

 Highly deviant behaviours like chronic lying or stealing lead to judgements of abnormality.

One way of deciding whether the behaviour is deviant is to consider how unusual it is. Behaviour is seen as usual if it occurs frequently, but behaviour that occurs relatively rarely in the population is abnormal. Extremely rare people can be considered deviant.

 Highly deviant behaviours like chronic lying or stealing lead to judgements of abnormality.


One way of deciding whether behaviour is deviant is to consider how unusual it is. Behaviour is seen as normal if it occurs frequently but behaviour that occurs relatively rarely in the population is abnormal. Extremely rare people can be considered deviant.
Danger to self and others due to irrational, unexpected, and unpredictable responses. Behaviours and feelings that are possibly harmful to an individual or people around them are seen as abnormal. Psychological dysfunction is behaviour that becomes dangerous to oneself or others. A pattern of functioning that is characterised by carelessness, poor judgment, hatred or misinterpretations can endanger one’s wellbeing and that of other people as well. A person may be seen to be endangering himself by not caring about what they eat and their health. Dangerous or violent behaviours aimed at oneself or others are abnormal.

Example: A person attempting to commit suicide is considered to be abnormal. Similarly, if an aggressive person tries to cut or harm himself with a knife or attack someone else with it is also considered to be abnormal. (, 2019) 

Distress (emotional suffering)

Behaviours and feelings that cause distress to the individual or others around them are considered abnormal. The individual’s subjective perceptions of pain, anxiety, depression, agitation, disturbance in sleep, loss of appetite, numerous aches and pains. Most people who are diagnosed with a mental disorder feel entirely miserable while they may appear normal to the observer.

The four Ds make up mental health specialists’ definition of behaviours being abnormal. They capture what most of us intend when we call something abnormal while avoiding some of the difficulties of using only the cultural relativism, unusualness, anxiety, and illness criteria. However, there is no clear line between normal and abnormal (Quizlet, n.d.).

Timothy Davies proposes that a 5th D – Duration – needs to be included (Quizlet, n.d.). Grief is a good example, because a period of grief is normal after the death of a loved one in fact, not grieving would be abnormal if the grief goes on for too long, for example like Queen Victoria (Quizlet, n.d.).


There are two diagnostic systems used worldwide: Diagnostic Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Disorders (ICD). DSM is American and only describes mental disorders. ICD is international and it describes all known diseases and disorders, so it is much more important. There are differences in the way they categorise mental disorders. Some disorders are included in one but not in the other.

The purpose of this classification systems is to provide clear information about diagnostic levels in order to allow clinicians and investigators to diagnose, and communicate about how to treat people with mental illness.

Diagnostic Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders is a manual published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) which includes a guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM includes descriptions, symptoms, and other standards for diagnosing mental disorders. The 5th edition was published in 2013, the 1st edition was published in 1952. This is somehow the most widely used diagnostic manual worldwide, though it has its own controversies (Psych Tutor, 2018).

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International Classification Disorder (ICD) is now in its 10th edition. This system is used by physicians and other health care providers to analyse and code all diagnoses, symptoms and methods recorded in connection with hospital care in the United States. The ICD covers a wide range of conditions than just mental health disorders. It works similarly to the DSM, but the disorders are coded.

There is a personal side to the diagnosing mental disorders that make it unreliable, but systems like the DSM have helped improve this.

Although the NHS uses ICD-10, the DSM-5 has a significant influence on how mental health is thought about and treated in the United Kingdom. However, it intends to make sure people problems are recognised and treated, and the new classification of Motor Neurone Disease (MND) might lead to the early stages of dementia is detected early, reducing false negatives. Arch agendas bring conditions into the public eye and influences clinical guidelines. Even though Britain’s NHS uses ICD-10, DSM-5 still affects psychiatry in Britain because of the research that goes on in the US (Psychology wizard, n.d.)


Phobia is a kind of anxiety disorder, characterised by a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation. It causes an individual to experience extreme irrational fear about a situation, living creature, places or object. Fear became a phobia when the the lifestyle is changed to manage it. Elevators are a common trigger for claustrophobia. Claustrophobia isk the fear of confined spaces. As a comparatively small and confined box, it is easy to see how an elevator could cause a claustrophobic reaction (, 2018). An example of person suffering from phobia is included in the appendix 1.1.

Psychoanalysis model was founded by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Freud thought that people could be cured by making conscious their unconscious ideas and motivations, hence gaining insight (Quizlet, n.d.)

Psychoanalysis therapy aims to release repressed emotions and experiences, i.e.,

make the unconscious conscious. It only has a cathartic (i.e., healing) experience can the person be helped and “cured.”

Psychodynamic Model of Abnormality

The Psyche

Freud’s personality theory (1923) viewed the psyche structure into three parts, id, ego and superego, all happening at different stages in our lives. They are the systems, that are not part of the brain, or in any way physical (, n.d.)

The Id is the animal part of the psyche and is ruled by instinctual drives like food, drink and sex. Its general aim is to satisfy these desires. If frustrated it becomes aggressive.

The Ego is the part of the psyche involved with reality. It tries to balance out the needs of the Id with the forces of the superego in a way that is realistically good.

The Superego is the decent part of the psyche and is directed by the need to act in ways our parents would approve of. When we do not behave that way, it punishes us with anxiety and guilt (McLeod, 2016). Refer to appendix 1.3.

• Psychodynamic therapy was very powerful in the first half of the 20th century. It involves the use of psychoanalysis, where the therapist uses methods such as dream analysis, and hypnosis to investigate the patient’s unconscious mind.

• Patients are not put in institutions, and therapists are supposed to be compassionate and understanding, where no judgement is made of the patient.

• However, the therapy has not been found to be particularly useful, notwithstanding being a time-consuming and expensive process. Therefore, it is limited in its usefulness (Psych Tutor, 2018).

The Psychodynamic model focuses more on making our unconscious mind conscious. This shows that in the case of Michael case study of phobia this model is applicable. Freud believed the behaviour is caused by internal or psychological forces, and abnormality is caused by an irregularity in the inside forces that trigger behaviour. He believed that mental illness arises from unsolved conscious struggles, and these usually happen in early childhood which is the case in Michael phobia case study.

Biological Model of Abnormality

Key assumptions of the medical/biological model

The biological approach believes that all psychological disorders have a physical cause (for example genetics, anatomy, biochemistry and so on). This approach believes that there must be something in the function of the brain that is responsible for causing psychological problems.

General Evaluations of Biological Explanations

•            The Biological explanations are reductionist as they concentrate only on biological factors such as chemicals or hormones and neglect psychological circumstances.

•            Biological explanations are deterministic because they neglect the individual’s capacity to manage their behaviour.

•            Biological is not consistent with the success rate for cognitive therapies. Also, the success of combination therapies implies more than one cause.

•            They are, nevertheless, the most straightforward answer for the patient to accept as this takes away the from them and their actions for their condition.

Applications of the model

The medical approach is the dominant approach in the diagnosis and treatment of most but not in all psychological conditions.

•            Most treatments are biologically-based drug therapies which are the most basic treatment, but surgery and ECT may also be applied depending on the condition. Drugs may be helpful but often have side-effects.

•            Notwithstanding, the effectiveness of medical treatments does not determine that the disorders have a medical source.

•            The model is not relevant to all psychological conditions, for example, eating disorders.

•            The model concentrates on the physical symptoms, rather than the psychological aspects and feelings of patients.

Biological Model: the study by biological model concentrate only on biology factors that is hereditary and gene factor which has nothing to do with the case study Michael has.

The Behaviourist Model of Abnormality

Key assumptions of the behavioural model

Behaviourist model of abnormality assumed all behaviour even if is maladaptive are learned and unlearned. These apply to abnormal behaviour as well, so a psychological condition is merely a learned response to a particular set of environmental stimuli.

 According to this approach, there are three ways behaviour can be learned.

The first way is Classical conditioning this is conditioning of reflex stimulus such as rat and respond for example a loud, painful noise. Researcher support this theory which studies about Little Albert by (Watson and Rayners). Little Albert 11 months old which had no fear of rats ( neutral stimuli), after this every time from then on when little Albert is present with the rat the researcher will strike a metal box behind Little Albert head producing unexpected unpleasant sound, this sound was anxiety invoking stimulus each time the metal box strike Little Albert will show response by crying after this being repeated several time also developed to the fear of cotton and father Christmas beard. This research, therefore, gave evidence of classical conditioning (, n.d.).

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The second of is Operant Conditioning, this is also known as direct reinforcement this is the idea that the behaviour that is rewarded will continue whereas the behaviour that is punished will not continue. This system has been used successfully in institutions, such as prisons and psychiatric hospitals. These work by rewarding appropriate behaviour with tokens can then be exchanged for privileges for direct reinforcement (, n.d.).

The third way on which we can learn is through Observational Learning is also known as direct reinforcement. This is the idea that if we see other people behaviour been rewarded that we will copy this behaviour whereas if we see it published it will not be copied. The Bobo Doll studies by (Bandura and Ross) this is where three groups of children saw a video of adults behaving aggressively towards a Bobo Doll. One group saw the adult been punished for the behaviour. Another group saw adult’s being rewarded for the behaviour and another group saw there is no consequence for the behaviour. The children are now been taking into a room exactly as the same in the video including the Bobo Doll and all the materials in the video. The children who had seen the adult’s behaviour rewarded or have no consequence copied the behaviour, behaving aggressively to the Bobo Doll when they did this, they were rewarded for the behaviour. Children who had seen the adult’s behaviour punished did not copy the behaviour until they saw other children being rewarded, then they joined in (, n.d.).

Applications of the model

The model is a simple and effective way of explaining and treating some psychological conditions (such as phobias)

• Although, for others, it appears to be over-simplistic and reduce a complex condition (such as schizophrenia) to simple processes of reinforcement. These seem very wrong.

• The therapy is often cheap and easy to perform (e.g. systematic desensitisation for phobias).

• There can be moral issues with some of the treatments, which expose people to stressful environments.

Behaviourist model these models is a simple and effective way of treating some psychological conditions (such as phobias) the condition that is in Michael’s case study. This model believe that behaviour is learned through the environment we live in.


Though the biological approach is known to have reasonably witnessed extraordinary success in healing mental disorders with drug medicines, it has also been criticised for having its primary focus on the symptoms and therefore whenever drugs are discontinued, the symptoms return which means the source of the problem is not being addressed.

Psychodynamic model

This theory is referred to as deterministic because of lack of free will over the action. It is also a reductionist because it reduces all complex behaviour to its simplex form. It cannot demonstrate the cause and effect it can only illustrate the link. An individual has no choice in the development of a mental disorder. Aside from the above criticism, the model is known as the origin of modern-day cures.

Biological model of treatments is more drastic than those of the psychodynamic model. While biological therapies rely on the issuance of psychotropic drugs, electrical shocks, or surgery, psychodynamic treatments rely on communication between the patient and the therapist. The biological model calls for artificial change, but the psychodynamic model believes that the human mind can heal itself through therapy (Topics, Sample Papers & Articles Online for Free, 2018)

Although we found that behavioural therapies and all other psychological therapies are equally effective and acceptable, further research is required to validate the finding

(, n.d.).

Cognitive theories of behaviour try to account for free will and choice making, and so it may be beneficial to combine behaviourist and cognitive approaches when attempting to explain abnormal (, n.d.).



These case study described below is an excellent example of specific phobias that have markedly affected this person’s life. Names and details of the individual described have been changed to protect their privacy. The case study provides the significant features of the phobia:

Elevator Phobia

Michael was a 61-year-old male who worked for in a provincial government office as an accountant. He enjoyed his work and the people who worked around him. He had worked for the government in this position, for the past 25years. He earned a good salary and excellent benefits. He was seriously considering retirement because his office, in fact, the whole accounting department, had recently been consolidated from several different locations. It was done to improve efficiency. For Michael,

 the problem with the consolidation is that he had a marked fear of small, enclosed spaces such as elevators. When his office was first moved, Michael decided to use the stairs to get to his office. He found this very hard because of an arthritic left knee. Because of his fear and his physical problem, he started to hate going to work — a friend of his advice that he gets therapy for his fears of the elevator.

Michael recognised that his fear was out of balance to the real dangers associated in elevator travel. However, this did not prevent him from avoiding travel on all elevators.

Michael problems started when he was a young child and was locked in his bedroom closet by his older brother. It was a prank, but Michael became very panicked and pounded on the door, but only was freed an hour later. After that experience, Michael avoided confined spaces of all types. He cannot stay in his bedroom at night without the light on (Anxiety Canada, 2019).


On a standard distribution curve, the majority of scores for a population will cluster around the mean. Any behaviour within the middle 68% of the population is seen as usual.

Standard deviation around the mean

The uses of the idea of statistical deviation (SD). Ordinary people are within 1SD of the mean, falling within the 34.1% on either side regarding their IQ, income, height, weight, age, level of extraversion. “Odd” people are distant from the mean – 2SD means in the 13.6% on each side of the ordinary people, so unusually smart or stupid, rich or poor, big or small, outgoing or shy. Certainly, abnormal people are in the 2.1% at the top or bottom of the scale: geniuses, billionaires or beggars, giants or dwarfs, party animals or super-nerds.

This has the important advantage of defining abnormality (and therefore deviance) in an objective, mathematical terms. The problem is, it overlooks how we feel about abnormality. Some things are very unusual but quite harmless and even very precious. Other things are very common but yet we complain about them.

Furthermore, some mental disorders are quite common and becoming more common. According to Wittchen et al. (2011), every year 165 million Europeans – 38.2% of Europe’s population – experience some form of mental illness, with the top 3 being anxiety, insomnia and depression (PSYCHOLOGY WIZARD, n.d.)

Appendix 1.3


•            PSYCHOLOGY WIZARD. (n.d.). Diagnosing Abnormality AO1 AO2 AO3. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2019].

•            Psych Tutor. (2018). Models of Abnormality. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2019].

•   (2019). WHAT IS ABNORMAL BEHAVIOR: Dysfunction Distress Danger Abnormal Psychology Social Sciences Psychology. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jan. 2019].

•            Anxiety Canada. (2019). Things That Go Bump in the Night: Specific Phobias. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2019].

•            McLeod, S. (2016). Id Ego Superego | Simply Psychology. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2019].

•   (2018). Phobias. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].

•            Topics, Sample Papers & Articles Online for Free. (2018). The Biological and Psychodynamic Models of Abnormality. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].

   (n.d.). Behaviourist approach to abnormality – A level psychology

•            Psychteacher. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].

   (n.d.). Psychodynamic Freudian approach to abnormality – A

•            Level psychology – Psychteacher. [online] Available at:

•   [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].

•            PSYCHOLOGY WIZARD. (n.d.). Diagnosing Abnormality AO1 AO2 AO3. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].

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