Defining Normality and Abnormality

The issues on normality and abnormality has always been a controversy. Question like what is normality and abnormality is still searching for an answer. Also, a question on who can define what is normal and what is abnormal. There are few models to identify abnormality:

The Lay Model

Experts and non experts recognized abnormal people when they come across it. People are labeled as ‘looney’ when they are confusing, distressing and frightening others. This is often framed as bad nerve or nervousness. The critics on this models are mainly on the lack of exact definition about abnormality. Lay Model is sometimes overlapping with psychiatric ideas of mental illness. This model also exaggerate the connection between violence and schizophrenia. It is said that a person who diagnosed with schizophrenic is more likely to commit a violent crime than a normal person (Feld Institute, 1984). It is ignored the possibility on a complex relationship between personal experience, beliefs and media messages (Philo et al., 1996).

The Legal Model

There are few changes in the definition of abnormality since the 19th century. Nowadays, experts in legal model lean on psychiatric experts because of two reasons: (1) the absence of precise legal definition of mental illness and (2) psychiatric opinion in court is viewed as expert view on the presence or absences of four legal categories: mental illness, mental impairment, severe mental impairment and psychopathic disorder. This dependency is also problematic. A killer can walk away from his trials when the psychiatric experts diagnosed him with mental illness. It seems that Legal model delegates the power of identify mental abnormality onto psychiatric experts. Still, lack of definition…

The Psychological Model

Buss (1996) outlines 3 main psychological concepts on normality and abnormality:

  • Statistical Concept – “frequently occurring behaviors in a population are normal, and thus infrequently occurring behaviors are not normal” – but how and who to decide the cut-off points?
  • Concept of Ideal – when a person’s consciousness dominate the unconsciousness (psychoanalytic) and who can fulfills their human potential (humanistic).
  • Specific Behavior Concept – trying to define abnormality explicitly through behavioral view – but, still, it reflects the value system which has relationship with culture and time.

The issues on normality vs abnormality is not going to be over soon, because the overlapping and the lack of definite definition is still on going. So, if you are a psychologist, will be you be easily label someone as abnormal?

Think about that…

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