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Concept of Normality and Abnormality

Updated on April 11, 2016

What is normal?

The term 'normal' was derived from the word 'norma' which means a carpenter's square.A norm therefore became a rule, pattern or standard and this is how the word 'normal' was introduced into the english lexicon.For understanding the meaning of the term, 'the normal activity' or usual response,one can rely on the meaning given in statistics.In statistics 'norm' is the usual or average response or central tendency at a particular criteria. Which is the usual or frequent response to a stimulus.


From the above description ,one must find out norms or average for all psychological processes and any response which fails to come within a definite range on either side of the norm or average, is to be regarded as 'abnormal'.

The term 'abnormal' with a prefix 'ab'(away from) thus came to signify the deviance or variation from the normal.

But for deciding what is 'normal' and what is a 'abnormal',different criteria are applied.This may be grouped as

1.Descriptive criteria

2.Explanatory criteria

Descriptive criteria

The Descriptive criteria try to describe which behaviour is normal or normal. They may be further divided into statistical and non-statistical criteria.

According to statistical criteria, average is normal and any deviation from the average would be abnormal. This criteria may be explained through a normal distribution curve (a bell curve). The main limitation of this criterion lies in separating abnormal from normal where qualitative aspects of the personality are involved.

What would you say when you see a cow eating meat and a tiger eating grass, the behaviour of these animals would be out of the ordinary.

Under non-statistical criterion the criteria related are morality,social conformity, perfection and legality. They are more subjective criteria and hence much reliability or validity cannot be placed on them.

Explanatory criteria

The explanatory criteria tell us why the behaviour is abnormal. They may be divided into pathological and psychological criterion.

Like when you see a person shouting in a library, you might find it pretty annoying and out of the ordinary but the explanatory criteria can give you the definite reason of the behaviour.

According to the pathological criterion , the normality or abnormality of the behaviour depends upon the functioning of the nervous system.Abnormal are those who suffer from a specific mental illness or disease. The psychological criterion links abnormality with the mal functioning of certain psychological systems.

As per adjustment criterion, a person is said to be normal or abnormal to the extent he feels adjusted or maladjusted with his self and his environment. By all means, it may be adjusted as the most satisfactory and practical criterion for describing and explaining the normal and abnormal behaviour.

It is quite usual to see a normal person may go into abnormal state for a certain period and come back to normal state. Similarly an abnormal person may act normally for certain period or in a certain situation.This overlapping is common. If a behaviour occurs at a certain frequency, it is called as normal;but if it occurs excessively, it is abnormal.

For example, in an office , if an individual cleans the dust and arranges his table once before starting his work is normal but if you find a person cleaning and dusting his table frequently in the same day is considered abnormal. Hence normality and abnormality are not two different compartments and it cannot be demonstrated that abnormality starts from this point. The normality and abnormality are two opposite poles of an axis,which is a continuum, when normality reduces, abnormality slowly increases.


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