Abnormality: Meaning, Definition, Nature.



APA defines Abnormality as the state or condition of being abnormal. Abnormal behavior is a psychological dysfunction within an individual that is associated with distress or impairment in functioning and a response that is not typical or culturally expected. Abnormality is a deviation of behavior in higher degree from the accepted social norms.

Abnormal behavior cannot be defined as a single component in a human being; rather it is a complex of several characteristics which are interlinked. Abnormality usually determined by the presence of several characteristics at one time.

The definition of abnormal behavior takes into account the characteristics of infrequent occurrence, violation of norms, personal distress, dysfunction and unexpectedness of behavior. Let us understand these concepts:

1. Infrequent Occurrence:

Majority of people show average behavior as concerned with any event in life. Those people who deviate from the average show extreme tendencies. But frequency cannot be the sole criterion for determination of abnormal behavior.

2. Violation of Norms:

This approach is based on social norms and cultural values that guide behavior in particular situations. If the behavior of a particular individual violates social norms, threatens or makes others anxious, it can be considered as abnormal behavior.

3. Personal Distress:

A behavior considered abnormal if it creates distress in the person experiencing it. For example a regular and heavy consumer of alcohol may realize his habit to be unhealthy and wish to discontinue his habit. The personal distress model is not self sufficient because people decide and report on how much they are suffering. Also the levels of distress vary in different people.

4. Dysfunctions:

Dysfunction or disability considers a person to be abnormal if his emotions, actions, or thoughts interfere with his ability to lead a normal life in the society. For example substance abuse disorders caused by abnormal drug use hamper a person’s work performance.

5. Unexpectedness:

This characteristic takes into account the unexpected occurrence of a behavior.

Causes of Abnormal

A paradigm is a set of basic assumptions that together define how to conceptualize studies and interpret data. The choice of a paradigm has some very important consequences in which they define the abnormal behavior.

  1. Biological Paradigm/ Medical Model: This view holds that biological or bodily processes are the causes of mental disorders. Individuals working with this paradigm assume that answers to abnormal behavior lie within the body.
  2. The psychoanalytic Paradigm: Sigmund Freud developed this paradigm assumes unconscious conflicts to be the reason of abnormal behavior. Freud particularly emphasized that intense anxiety caused by forbidden impulses for sex or aggression. The Freudian view also gives importance to guilt generated by superego in response to these impulses. The ego caught in between id and superego which forces a person to adopt rigid defense mechanisms and inflexible behaviors.
  3. Behavioral Paradigm: The behavioral paradigm considers maladaptive behavior as the result of failure in learning required for adaptive behavior and learning ineffective responses to those behaviors.
  4. Cognitive Paradigm: This paradigm considers that the interpretations made by people are central to the understanding of abnormal behavior. However, these interpretations are based on the type of underlying experiences and schemas which people have.

The causes of abnormal behavior can be classified under:

  1. Biological Factors: Various biological factors like genetic defects, dysfunction in the endocrine system, brain dysfunction, may together or individually become the cause of abnormal behavior. Research has found hat disorders like schizophrenia and manic-depressive psychoses are genetically transmitted.
  2. Psychological Factors: The role of psychological factors in causing abnormality is indirect hence it is difficult to measure. But various psychological factors like relationship with parents during childhood, their attitude towards socialization, peer group etc. may develop faulty identity, wer-pessimism, overindulgence or over-protectiveness in an individual.
  3. Siocio-cultural Factors: This factor is constantly being explored because lot much specific evidence has been found. But rapid urbanization, social changes, changes in work culture etc. are making individuals more prone to anxiety, stress and depression. These factors thus contribute to the onset of abnormal behavior.


  • Coleman, J.C. (1964), Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life, Scolt, Foresman, Chicago.
  • Kagan, Jercome and Julius Segal (1988), Psychology: An Introduction, Har Court Brace. Jovanovich Publisher, New York.
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