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What Is the Difference Between Normal and Abnormal Psychology?

Normal psychology is the study of human behavior that is considered to be "normal" or average.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2014
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The difference between normal and abnormal psychology tends to be one of degree of disruption. Normal psychology is the study of human behavior, with a focus on “normal” or average, socially-acceptable traits and behaviors. Abnormal psychology, by contrast, is the study of unusual human behavior, and includes the study of mental disorders. The distinction between normal and abnormal psychology can be very stark or quite subtle; it is often easy for an unconventional form of behavior to be considered abnormal, when it may simply be simply a different approach. One way to help distinguish between them is to determine the effect behavioral patterns have on the well-being of the individual in question.

The study of normal psychology involves the examination of general psychological and behavioral responses of a population. For instance, the study of child psychology focuses on how children tend to develop mental and behavioral characteristics as they age. Normal psychology creates a frame of reference from which inferences about typical behavior and thought patterns can be drawn. For instance, if ten children experience the death of a beloved grandparent, and eight experience sadness and anger upon learning about the death, the conclusion might be that sadness and anger are normal psychological responses to the situation.

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When discussing the other two children in the example above, the distinction between normal and abnormal psychology comes into play. If one child goes into a period of deep denial following the death of a beloved grandparent, the automatic assumption might be that the child is having an abnormal response. Some psychologists might argue, however, depending on the length and extent of the denial period, that the child is simply having an unconventional response that still fits within the spectrum of normal behavior.

Responses that fall at or beyond the far ends of normal psychology may be deemed abnormal. In general, abnormal psychology, which is also called psychopathology, focuses on responses that cause a significant amount of damage or distress in a person's life. If the remaining child in the example started exhibiting extremely self-destructive behavior, or underwent a complete and lasting personality change as a result of the death, his or her response might be considered under the terms of abnormal psychology. Many experts stress that an abnormal psychological response does not indicate that the person is bad, wrong, or crazy, but may suggest that his or her psychological response is doing more harm than good.

The study of mental diseases and disorders also distinguishes normal and abnormal psychology. While normal psychology can teach people how to recognize and cope with average responses, abnormal psychological care often focuses on the treatment of behavioral, mood, and developmental disorders. Since these disorders are technically “abnormal,” many people will not have the innate ability to manage or control the situation, and may need psychological treatment or even drug therapy to help manage the conditions.

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fify
Post 3

I think both normal and abnormal psychology tries to figure out why people feel the way they do and do the things they do. The only difference is that one looks at normal behavior and the other at abnormal behavior.

SarahGen
Post 2

@ddljohn-- I don't agree with you because normal does not mean perfect. It simply means typical and conforming to some norm. The norm is how most of the society behaves.

So psychologists are not trying to categorize people as perfect or imperfect. They are simply trying to establish behavior patterns that may be caused by some kind of personality disorder or mental illness.

You're right that everyone has a different personality. But people with different personalities also brush their teeth, go to work and socialize. If someone is unable to do these things for example, there might be another issue and this is where the study of abnormal psychology comes in.

ddljohn
Post 1

I often feel flustered when thinking about "abnormal" psychology because I personally don't think that anything is abnormal.

We determine what is abnormal by comparing someone's behavior to another's. This would work well if we knew what normal is. But no one is absolutely perfect and just because someone thinks and behaves differently doesn't mean that there is something wrong with them. It just means that they are different.

If we were to look at individuals in society, I'm sure that we could categorize every single person into one of the personality disorders known in psychology. So this whole categorization of normal and abnormal seems to be a way to make psychologist's job easier.

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