Abnormal Behavior

Did you have an imaginary friend when you were young? Maybe you named your favorite blanket Frank. Frank went everywhere with you and you called him your best friend. But by a certain age, you realized an inanimate object can't be your best friend unless, of course, you're Tom Hanks in the movie "Cast Away". But what if you hear of someone who had a best friend, a blanket named Frank when they were 30 years old? Would this be considered abnormal behavior at this age? Why?

Abnormal Behavior Abnormal Behavior

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Contents
Table of contents
    • What is the abnormal behavior definition?
    • What are the types of abnormal behavior?
    • What are the causes of abnormal behavior?
    • What are the symptoms of abnormal behavior?
    • What is abnormal behavior for a toddler?

    Abnormal Behavior Definition

    According to the World Health Organization (2022), a psychological disorder is a "clinically significant disturbance in an individual's cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior." In this article, we will focus on the behavior part of this definition. The term abnormal behavior can be difficult to define. We have several ways to describe abnormal behavior, such as "insanity, madness, lunacy, or emotionally disturbed" to name a few. But, psychologists haven't been able to lock down one single definition of abnormal behavior that's universally accepted. The very general definition of abnormal behavior that we will use for this article is as follows:

    Abnormal behavior refers to dysfunctional and socially deviant behaviors that cause personal distress and can be potentially harmful to the self or others.

    The abnormal behavior definition can be subjective and heavily depend on cultural influences. Something that is abnormal behavior in one culture may not be abnormal in others. Society is also ever-changing. A type of behavior may have been perfectly acceptable hundreds of years ago that is not acceptable today.

    Types of Abnormal Behavior

    Now let's break down the types of abnormal behavior that are used in our definition -- distress, dysfunctional and deviant.

    Deviant Abnormal Behavior

    Deviant abnormal behavior is a type of behavior that is outside what is normal according to society.

    Every time Hallie left the house she had to leave, lock the door and repeat 5 times before she can actually make her way to school. Normal social behavior would be to lock it once and go on your way. Maybe twice if you think you forgot to lock it. But going back 5 times every time would be considered deviant abnormal behavior.

    Behaviors that fall under this type of abnormal behavior can vary depending on a person's culture. A behavior that's deviant in one culture may be perfectly normal in another.

    Distressed Abnormal Behavior

    Distressed abnormal behavior is abnormal behavior that causes a person to be upset, anxious, or distraught. This type of abnormal behavior depends on how a person feels and how they report their emotional state of mind.

    Going back and forth to lock her door 5 times every day before school is making Hallie anxious because she is late almost every day. This is an example of distressed abnormal behavior.

    Abnormal Behavior, Woman visibly upset with hands on her head and eyes squeezed shut, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Abnormal behavior that causes distress

    Dysfunctional Abnormal Behavior

    Dysfunctional abnormal behavior refers to maladaptive behaviors a person may display.

    Maladaptive behavior refers to behaviors that interfere with a person's ability to adapt to and function within society.

    Hallie is sitting at the lunch table with all of her friends but she's having a hard time engaging in any conversations because she only went to lock her door 4 times today.

    Causes of Abnormal Behavior

    Abnormal behavior is not a new phenomenon. All through human history, we have tried to explain the causes of abnormal behavior. Ancient societies often believed that abnormal behavior was caused by some type of supernatural cause or evil spirit. However, as Greek and Roman philosophers (500 BC to 500 AD) began to emerge, the tune changed to other causes. The Greek physician, Hippocrates, attributed abnormal behavior to disorders and imbalances in the brain or body. This new view set the foundation for how we view abnormal behavior today.

    Then, as we move to the Middle Ages (500 AD - 1350), supernatural explanations for abnormal behavior became popular again. This led to extreme practices such as exorcisms and witch hunts. It also acted as a stepping stone to asylums which first made their appearance during the Renaissance Era (1400-1700).

    Asylums: a type of hospital or institution that is aimed at housing and treating individuals with a psychological disorder such as severe cases of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other serious conditions.

    Abnormal Behavior, Picture of an old hospital bed in a rundown hospital, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Inhumane asylums

    Asylums often left people who displayed abnormal behavior vulnerable to unfair and inhumane treatment. But then came Philippe Pinel (1745-1826), a French physician who changed how abnormal behavior was viewed.

    Pinel advocated for more humane treatments of individuals who displayed abnormal behavior. He suggested that abnormal behavior is caused by a sickness of the mind as well as inhumane conditions and extreme stress. The result -- a shift to moral treatments that focused on boosting patients' spirits, gentleness, activity, and clean air and sunshine.

    Today, the primary causes of abnormal behavior that psychologists focus on are based on the medical model and biopsychological model.

    Medical Model

    By the 1900s, medical breakthroughs of the time began to influence how abnormal behavior was viewed. Researchers found that a viral sexually transmitted disease called syphilis caused mental distortions by invading the brain. Just as Pinel predicted, a cause of abnormal behavior could in fact be a sickness in the mind. This led to researchers looking into other possible physical causes of abnormal behavior. As a result, the medical model took hold and hospitals started to replace asylums.

    Medical model: the perspective that abnormal behavior has physical causes.

    Since abnormal behavior has physical causes, the medical model suggests that it can also be treated and/or cured. We can see the influence of the medical model in our use of terms such as "mental health" or "mental illness." Research psychologists have found that other physical causes such as genes and biochemistry abnormalities can also be causes of abnormal behavior.

    Biopsychosocial Approach

    While physiological causes of abnormal behavior are common, it does not always tell the full story. Our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings are influenced by biological factors as well as psychological and social-cultural influences.

    The biopsychosocial approach combines biological, psychological, and social-cultural perspectives to explain a person's behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.

    The biopsychological model for abnormal behavior works in a feedback loop. Biological influences of abnormal behavior can affect psychological influences. Psychological influences can affect social-cultural influences. Psychological and social-cultural influences can in turn affect biological influences through a concept called epigenetics.

    Epigenetics examines how the environment can affect gene expression through molecular mechanisms.

    Symptoms of Abnormal Behavior

    There can be various symptoms of abnormal behavior. These symptoms are commonly used to diagnose a psychological disorder using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V).

    It's important to note that, while useful, the DSM-V is often criticized for being too broad in determining what abnormal behavior classifies as a psychological disorder. Some worry that eventually, everyday behavior can be considered abnormal behavior and therefore signify a psychological disorder.

    Common symptoms of abnormal behavior include the following:

    • Suicide ideation (thoughts of suicide)

    • Excessive use of drugs and alcohol

    • Physical symptoms without a medical cause

    • Changes in eating habits (i.e. loss of appetite or excessive hunger)

    • Avoidance of social activities

    • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)

    • Constant worry or fear

    • Changes in sex drive

    • Inability to understand the perspective of others

    • Struggles to perceive reality (i.e. hallucinations or delusions)

    • Obsessive concern with our appearance or fear of gaining weight

    Abnormal Behavior, Child crying and upset, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Abnormal toddler behavior

    Abnormal Behavior Toddler

    Psychological disorders can begin to develop from a very young age. It's important to note that symptoms of abnormal behavior may look different in children. For example, abnormal behavior in toddlers may have the following symptoms:

    • Overactivity

    • Frequent temper tantrums

    • Aggression

    • Frequent nightmares

    • Constant and excessive feelings of worry or anxiety

    • Poor impulse control

    • Frequent disobedience and lack of compliance

    • Lack of eye contact

    • Difficulty paying attention more than other children their age

    • Frequent arguments or disagreements around other children

    Abnormal behavior in toddlers can be especially noticeable for children with a psychological disorder such as autism or Down syndrome.

    Abnormal Behavior - Key takeaways

    • According to the World Health Organization (2022), a psychological disorder is a "clinically significant disturbance in an individual's cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior."
    • The types of abnormal behavior include deviant, distressed, and dysfunctional.
    • Abnormal behavior is not a new phenomenon. All through human history, we have tried to explain the causes of abnormal behavior.
    • Common symptoms of abnormal behavior include suicide ideation (thoughts of suicide), excessive use of drugs and alcohol, physical symptoms without a medical cause, changes in eating habits (i.e. loss of appetite or excessive hunger), and insomnia (difficulty sleeping) to name a few.

    • Psychological disorders can begin to develop from a very young age. It's important to note that symptoms of abnormal behavior may look different in children.

    • Psychological disorders can begin to develop from a very young age. It's important to note that symptoms of abnormal behavior may look different in children


    References

    1. Campbell, S. B., Shaw, D. S., & Gilliom, M. (2000). Early externalizing behavior problems: Toddlers and preschoolers at risk for later maladjustment. Development and psychopathology, 12(3), 467-488.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Abnormal Behavior

    What is an abnormal behavior?

    Abnormal behavior refers to dysfunctional and socially deviant behaviors that cause personal distress and can be potentially harmful to the self or others.

    What is an example of abnormal behavior?

    An example of abnormal behavior might include maladaptive behavior. A person may engage in behaviors that interfere with their ability to adapt to and function within society such as if a person spends 5 hours a day washing their hands. 

    What are the three types of abnormal behavior?

    The three types of abnormal behavior are deviant, distressed, and dysfunctional abnormal behavior. 

    What causes abnormal behavior?

    Causes of abnormal behavior that are most often explored in psychology are based on the medical model (physical causes) or the biopsychosocial approach (combines biological, psychological, and social-cultural causes). 

    What is the difference between normal and abnormal behavior?

    The difference between normal and abnormal behavior is that normal behavior is not dysfunction, does not cause distress, and doesn't deviate from the social expectations. Abnormal behavior does. 

    What are the 5 most common behavioral issues?

    The 5 most common behavioral issues or disorders due to abnormal behavior are: 

    1. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
    2. Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
    3. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    4. Conduct disorder
    5. Behavioral addiction

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Then, as we move to the Middle Ages (500 AD - 1350), ____________ for abnormal behavior became popular again.

    The _____________ combines biological, psychological, and social-cultural perspectives to explain a person's behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.

    Which of the following is not a common symptom of abnormal behavior? 

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