Abnormal Psychology: Meaning and Significance

PsychologyAbnormal Psychology

Abnormal behavior is often seen as something to be scared of, and people tend to consider "abnormal behavior" as something dangerous or uncommon, whereas in the context of psychology, an abnormality is a word used to define problems a person may face with their mental health.

What is Abnormal Psychology?

Abnormal psychology sheds light on psychopathology, or the study of causes, symptoms, and management associated with abnormal behavior or mental disorders. People facing mental health challenges are also seen and treated differently by society, which creates feelings of shame, embarrassment, and distress. A mental illness is a mental health condition that negatively affects a person's thinking, feeling, behavior, relationships, and overall functioning.

To understand the concept of abnormality and psychological disorders, it is important to understand what makes a behavior abnormal and what a psychological disorder is.

Differences Between Normal and Abnormal Behavior

The definition of normal and abnormal behavior might differ from culture to culture. Normal behavior refers to the type of behavior that lies under the code of conduct of society, i.e., the behavior that is expected and accepted by the people living in the community. Any behavior is considered normal when it follows all the norms, values, and expectations set up by society.

Whereas abnormal behavior indicates the kind of behavior considered unacceptable according to societal norms, this is the kind of unexpected behavior that violates social norms. Abnormal behavior does not have a concrete definition. Commonly, deviation from the ideal or normal is considered to be abnormal. The medical system defines abnormality as the presence of some specific symptoms. However, many scholars have defined abnormal behavior as having four elements, or 4 D's, i.e., Deviance, Distress, Danger, and Dysfunction.

Deviance is defined in statistical frequency terms, i.e., infrequent behavior is considered deviant, and it is one of the elements in defining abnormality. Behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that cause distress to the individual or others, affecting the social, interpersonal, emotional, and physical well-being, are considered to be another element of abnormality, i.e., distress. Dysfunction can be understood when a person's behavior interferes with their day-to-day functioning, their ability to carry out daily activities, form close relationships, hold jobs, etc. Lastly, any behavior that may harm self or others is considered dangerous and, therefore, an important element of abnormality.

Psychological Disorders

Psychological disorders are patterns of thoughts and behavior that affect emotions, behavior, and cognition and our considered uncommon in society. Psychological disorders can be stressful and create difficulties in day-to-day activities. Abnormal Psychology aims to describe, explain, predict and modify behaviors associated with psychological disorders. Since it is a dynamic construct, it is important to consider multiple factors underlying understanding a particular disorder. Some factors can be biological, psychological, social, cultural, or a combination of one or more. For this reason, a bio-psycho-social model is given importance.

The Bio-Psycho-Socio Model

Many psychological disorders are prevalent in the world. Some of the disorders are-

Stigma about Abnormal Behaviour and Psychological Disorder

The disorder often goes undiagnosed due to the fear of unacceptability in the family or society. The stigma associated with psychological disorders makes it difficult to study, understand, and treat them.

Our society has numerous myths about abnormal behavior and psychological disorders. Long ago, people with psychological disorders were said to be involved in "witchcraft" or under the influence of "demonic possession." Due to those beliefs, they were treated harshly instead of getting the appropriate treatment. Until the 18th century, the only treatment for people with psychological disorders was to put them in a mental asylum. The lack of awareness among people greatly contributes to the increasing stigma of mental health. People behave differently around those who suffer from mental health conditions or seek help, making many sufferers reluctant to seek treatment. In many situations, lack of awareness also plays a key role in undiagnosed mental health conditions. They lack information about their condition and think that their suffering is normal. Till today psychological disorders are considered untreatable, and people going through these challenges are seen as weak and vulnerable. As a society, we should start accepting the concept of mental health and help in increasing awareness about this taboo topic. People going through mental health conditions should be seen and treated equally rather than seen as being weak or crazy.


Abnormal psychology is one of the fundamental branches of psychology that focuses on the study of all those people whose behaviors are "abnormal" or "atypical" compared to the members of the respective society. However, to define the concept of abnormality precisely is not an easy task, as abnormal behaviors spatio-temporal characteristics and highly unpredictable.


Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47