Abnormal Psychology in Social Sciences: Understanding Disturbed Behavior

Abnormal psychology is a critical component of the social sciences, focused on understanding and treating disturbed behavior. This field deals with psychological disorders that deviate from societal norms and disrupt individuals’ mental health, interfering with their daily functioning. In this article, we will explore the nature of abnormal psychology, its importance in the study of human behavior, and how it can be used to help people struggling with mental illness.

Take for example the case of John Doe (pseudonym), who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 25. He had experienced delusions and hallucinations for years before seeking treatment due to fear of stigmatization. His symptoms were severe enough to impact his work performance, relationships, and overall quality of life. With proper diagnosis and medication management, John has been able to manage his condition better and lead a more functional life. However, there are many others like him who may not receive timely intervention or adequate support due to lack of awareness about mental illnesses and associated stigma.

Defining Abnormal Behavior


Abnormal behavior is a fascinating and complex area of study within the field of psychology. It involves understanding why individuals behave in ways that deviate from what is considered “normal” or expected by society. For example, consider the case of John, who has been experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks for several months now. He avoids social situations and feels extremely anxious when he thinks about leaving his house.

There are different ways to define abnormal behavior, but most definitions incorporate some combination of these four elements:

  1. Statistical Rarity: Behaviors or experiences that occur infrequently in the population may be seen as abnormal.

  2. Social Deviance: Behaviors that violate social norms or expectations can be viewed as abnormal.

  3. Impairment or Dysfunction: When behaviors interfere with an individual’s ability to function normally in everyday life, they may be considered abnormal.

  4. Personal Distress: Individuals who experience significant emotional distress due to their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors may be seen as having abnormal patterns of functioning.

To better understand how these factors can intersect, let us take a look at this table:

Factor Example
Statistically Rare A person hearing voices
Socially Deviant A man walking around naked
Impairment/Dysfunction A woman unable to leave her home due to extreme fear
Personal Distress An individual feeling intense sadness for no apparent reason

As we can see from the table above, there are numerous examples of behaviors that could fall under one or more categories of abnormality based on these criteria.

However, it is essential to note that just because someone displays certain traits does not necessarily mean they have a mental disorder. Mental health professionals use specific diagnostic criteria outlined in manuals such as DSM-5 to determine whether an individual meets all necessary requirements for diagnosis.


In conclusion, defining abnormal behavior is a complex process that involves considering multiple factors. Still, it generally includes an understanding of how behaviors deviate from what is considered “normal” or expected by society and how those behaviors impact the individual’s ability to function in everyday life.

Historical Perspectives on Abnormal Behavior

After understanding what abnormal behavior means, let’s delve into the historical perspectives on this topic. This will help us better understand how different societies have defined and dealt with deviant behavior over time.

For instance, in ancient Greece, mental disorders were seen as a result of supernatural forces or divine punishment. Hippocrates, often considered the father of modern medicine, was among the first to propose that mental illness had natural causes and could be treated like any other physical ailment.

Moving forward to the 19th century, abnormal behavior started being viewed from a scientific perspective. Scholars such as Emil Kraepelin developed classification systems for mental illnesses based on observable symptoms rather than subjective moral judgments. The work by Sigmund Freud also helped shape our current understanding of abnormal psychology and psychotherapy.

Despite these advancements, stigma surrounding mental illness persisted throughout history. Individuals who displayed unusual behaviors were often ostracized and subjected to cruel treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy or lobotomy.

Today, while we have made significant progress in recognizing and treating mental health issues, there is still much work to be done. According to , nearly one in five adults experience some form of mental illness each year in the United States alone.

It is imperative that society continues to break down stigmas associated with mental illness and provide individuals with access to proper care and treatment. In order to achieve this goal, we must continue learning about the complex factors that contribute to abnormal behavior.

To gain more insight into these contributing factors, it is necessary to explore the causes of abnormal behavior which include biological, psychological, social-cultural influences amongst others. Let’s examine these factors further in the next section.

Causes of Abnormal Behavior

From a historical perspective, abnormal behavior has been stigmatized and misunderstood. However, with advancements in the social sciences, we have come to understand that there are many underlying causes of such behaviors. One example is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD can manifest in various ways; one individual may feel compelled to wash their hands repeatedly while another may feel like they need to check if the stove is off multiple times.

There are several factors that contribute to abnormal behavior. These include biological factors such as genetics and brain chemistry as well as environmental factors such as trauma or stressors. Additionally, cultural norms and societal expectations play a role in defining what is considered normal or abnormal behavior.

It’s important to recognize that individuals who exhibit abnormal behavior often face significant challenges. They may experience discrimination, stigma, and difficulty accessing appropriate care. Therefore, it’s crucial for society to address these issues by promoting understanding and awareness of mental health issues.

  • Mental illness affects approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 years old.
  • Only about half of those with mental illness receive treatment.
  • The economic cost of untreated mental illness exceeds $200 billion annually.

To better comprehend how abnormal psychology fits into the larger context of psychology research, take a look at this table showcasing different subfields within psychology:

Subfield Description Example
Abnormal Study of unusual patterns of thought/behavior Investigating disorders like schizophrenia
Cognitive Examines mental processes Studying memory recall ability
Developmental Studies changes throughout lifespan Analyzing language acquisition during early childhood
Social Explores interactions between individuals Investigating group dynamics in a workplace environment

It’s evident from this table that abnormal psychology is just one facet of the broader field of psychology. However, it plays an essential role in understanding and addressing mental health issues.

In conclusion, abnormal behavior can be caused by various factors such as genetics or environmental stressors. People with mental illness often face significant challenges and barriers to accessing appropriate care. It’s crucial for society to address these issues by promoting awareness and reducing stigma surrounding mental health. In the subsequent section about “Common Types of Abnormal Behavior,” we will delve deeper into specific disorders and their symptoms.

Common Types of Abnormal Behavior

Understanding the various causes of abnormal behavior is essential in comprehending how certain psychological disorders develop. For instance, one example that illustrates this concept is a person who experiences severe anxiety attacks when walking past tall buildings or crossing bridges. This individual may have developed such a phobia due to a traumatic experience related to heights during childhood.

There are numerous factors that can contribute to the development of abnormal behavior. These include genetic predisposition, environmental influences, brain chemistry imbalances, and social learning. While some people may be more susceptible to developing these behaviors than others, it’s crucial to note that anyone can experience them at any point in their lives.

The emotional impact of living with abnormal behavior can be overwhelming for individuals afflicted by it as well as their loved ones. Some common emotions they may feel include shame, guilt, sadness, confusion, and fear. It’s important to remember that seeking help from mental health professionals can provide relief and offer strategies for managing these emotions.

One way psychologists classify different types of abnormal behavior is by using diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 provides specific guidelines for identifying symptoms associated with various psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorders like borderline personality disorder among others .

A table showcasing some examples based on DSM-5 criteria:

Psychological Disorder Symptoms Prevalence
Major Depressive Prolonged sadness Affects 7% of adults
Disorder Insomnia or hypersomnia
Loss of appetite
Lack of energy
Schizophrenia Delusions Rare – affects 1%
Disorganized speech or behavior
Negative symptoms (apathy, anhedonia)
Generalized Anxiety Persistent worry Affects 3% of adults
Disorder Restlessness
Sleep disturbance

In summary, abnormal behaviors can develop due to various factors that influence an individual’s psychological makeup. These behaviors can cause a wide range of emotions and feelings for those who experience them as well as their loved ones. By using the DSM-5 criteria, psychologists can diagnose specific types of disorders based on symptomology .

Diagnosis and Treatment of Abnormal Behavior

One example of abnormal behavior is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that causes individuals to have unwanted and intrusive thoughts, leading them to perform repetitive behaviors or mental acts. For instance, an individual with OCD may repeatedly check if the doors are locked even though they know it’s already locked. They do this because their brain tells them that something terrible will happen if they don’t check.

Abnormal psychology in social sciences aims to understand disturbed behavior to help people lead better lives.

It is crucial to diagnose abnormal behavior accurately before treating it. Diagnosis involves identifying symptoms and matching them with criteria listed in diagnostic manuals such as DSM-5 or ICD-11. However, diagnosing can be challenging due to overlapping symptoms across different diagnoses.

Treatment for abnormal behavior varies based on diagnosis but generally includes therapy and medication. Therapy helps individuals develop coping mechanisms while medication reduces symptoms’ severity. It is essential to note that recovery from abnormal behavior is not always linear; relapses may occur during treatment.

Living with someone who has an abnormal behavioral condition can be emotionally draining for caregivers. Caregivers often experience feelings such as frustration, anger, guilt, depression, and burnout {markdown}:

  • Frustration: Feeling helpless when trying to provide care.
  • Anger: Resentment towards the person receiving care.
  • Guilt: Feeling responsible for causing the person’s condition.
  • Depression: Sadness about not being able to make things better.

The following table shows some ways caregivers can cope with their emotions effectively {markdown}:

Emotion Coping Strategy Example
Frustration Take breaks from caregiving. Go for a walk or read a book.
Anger Express your feelings to someone you trust. Talk to a therapist or support group member.
Guilt Remind yourself that it’s not your fault. Write down positive affirmations about yourself.
Depression Seek professional help if needed. Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional.

Diagnosing and treating abnormal behavior is not enough; ethical considerations must also be taken into account during treatment . The next section will delve deeper into the ethical issues surrounding abnormal psychology, including confidentiality, informed consent, and cultural sensitivity.

In summary, understanding abnormal behavior requires accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment while considering emotional challenges caregivers face when supporting their loved ones. Effective coping strategies can help manage negative emotions experienced by caregivers during this process before they cause burnout.

Ethical Considerations in Treating Abnormal Behavior

With the diagnostic criteria and treatment options for abnormal behavior laid out, it is important to consider the ethical implications of such interventions. Take, for example, a hypothetical case study of a 25-year-old individual who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). This individual experiences intense emotional instability, fear of abandonment, and self-harm behaviors.

One major ethical consideration in treating BPD is ensuring that the therapist or psychiatrist does not engage in countertransference – i.e., projecting their own emotions onto the client. This can be particularly difficult with individuals who have BPD due to their tendency to evoke strong reactions in others. Additionally, therapists must balance providing support and validation while also encouraging clients to take responsibility for their actions and work towards change .

Another ethical concern when working with individuals who display disturbed behavior is maintaining confidentiality. While there are certain circumstances where breaking confidentiality may be necessary (e.g., if the client poses an immediate threat to themselves or others), therapists must strive to create a safe space where clients feel comfortable sharing personal information without fear of judgment or repercussions.

Furthermore, issues around informed consent arise when considering treatments such as medication or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Clients should fully understand the potential risks and benefits associated with these interventions before consenting to them. It is also crucial that they are provided with alternative treatment options and encouraged to make autonomous decisions about their care.

Finally, considerations around cultural competence come into play when treating individuals from diverse backgrounds. Therapists must recognize how societal norms and values impact clients’ experiences of mental illness and tailor treatments accordingly. Cultural humility – i.e., recognizing one’s own limitations in understanding another culture – is essential in fostering trust between therapist and client .

To illustrate this point further, consider Table 1 below which highlights some common misconceptions about mental health within different cultures:

Culture Misconceptions
Hispanic/Latinx Mental illness is a sign of weakness or sin and should be hidden from others.
African American Seeking help for mental health issues is seen as a personal failure or betrayal of the community.
Asian/Pacific Islander Mental illness is viewed as shameful and may bring dishonor to the family.
Native American Traditional healing practices are often preferred over Western treatments, which can be seen as invasive or disrespectful.

In conclusion, treating abnormal behavior requires careful consideration of ethical concerns such as countertransference, confidentiality, informed consent, and cultural competence. Therapists must strive to create an environment where clients feel safe discussing their experiences without fear of judgment while also providing evidence-based interventions that prioritize client autonomy . By doing so, we can work towards reducing stigma surrounding mental illness and promoting holistic well-being for all individuals.

About Justin Howze