“Abnormality” is a surprisingly difficult phenomenon to define. Many psychologists have tried and four of those attempts appear in this booklet. None have managed to provide a comprehensive definition and each has several limitations.
Here is a general overview of each definition:
Definition 1: Deviation from Social Norms (DSN)
Norms are commonly expected standards of behaving in a society according to the majority. In other words, they are accepted ways of behaving in society.
Sometimes these are written (explicit) and form laws that govern behaviour. Sometimes though, these norms of behaviour are unwritten (implicit) but generally accepted (e.g. not standing too close to people whilst talking to them).
Whether explicit or implicit, social norms allow for the regulation of normal social behaviour. All societies have standards, or norms, for appropriate behaviours and beliefs (expectations about how people should behave as well as what they should think).
This definition, therefore, suggests that abnormality can be seen as someone who breaks these ‘rules of society’ (i.e. someone who doesn’t think or behave in a way that is accepted by that society).
Definition 2: Failure to Function Adequately (FFA)
“Failing to function” is generally taken to mean that a person is unable to cope with everyday life. Their behaviour is seen as maladaptive (not good for survival), disrupting their ability to work and conduct satisfying relationships and causes personal distress as well as distress to others.
Rosenhan and Seligman (1989) have suggested some key...