(Furnham, Adrian (2009-03-02). 50 Psychology Ideas You Really Need to Know (50 Ideas You Really Need to Know Series) )

Abnormal behavior

"For clinical psychology, the issue is not so much whether the behaviour is abnormal, as whether it is maladaptive, causing a person distress and social impairment. If a person’s behaviour seems irrational or potentially harmful to themselves and others, we tend to think of that as abnormal. For the psychologist it is called psychopathology."
"Today, psychological definitions of abnormality revolve around a handful of generally agreed-upon criteria. These have been classified as the 4Ds: distress, deviance, dysfunction, danger. … A very common criterion is irrationality -- bizarre, illogical beliefs about the physical or social world as well as, very often, the spiritual world."
* Subjective: Uses ourselves, our behavior, our values as the criteria of normality
* Normative: There is an ideal, desirable state of how one should think and behave
* Clinical: "Social scientists and medical clinicians attempt to assess the effectiveness, organization and adaptiveness of a person’s functioning. Much depends on which dimension is being assessed. Clinicians also accept that the normal–abnormal distinctions are grey and somewhat subjective, though they strive for reliable diagnosis. Abnormality is usually associated with poor adaptations, pain or bizarre behaviours."
* Cultural: "Culture dictates trends in everything from dress to demeanour, language to love. Culture prescribes and proscribes behaviours. Certain things are taboo, others are illegal."
* Statistical: "All statisticians know the concept of the bell curve or the normal distribution. It has particular properties and is best known in the world of intelligence. Thus a score of 100 is average and 66 per cent of the population score between 85 and 115, and around 97 per cent between 70 and 130. Thus if you score below 70 and over 130 you are unusual, though the word ‘abnormal’ would not be applied. This model has drawbacks in the fact that behaviour that occurs frequently does not necessarily make it healthy or desirable."

Placebo effect

"A placebo is simply defined as a preparation with no medicinal value and no pharmacological effects. An active placebo is one that mimics the side-effects of the drug under investigation but lacks its specific, assumed therapeutic affect. … Modern research in the area is usually attributed to a paper written in the American Dental Association Journal over 50 years ago. Henry Beecher shocked the medical world by claiming that just placebo procedures like giving sugar pills or even sympathetically physically examining the patient would lead to an improvement in 30 per cent of patients. Today that estimate has increased to between a half to three-quarters of patients, with all sorts of problems from asthma to Parkinson’s showing real lasting improvements from a range of treatments."

"More serious, ‘major’ or invasive procedures do appear to have stronger placebo effects. Injections per se appear to have a greater impact than pills, and even placebo surgery (where people are cut open and sewn up with little or nothing done) has yielded high positive response rates. The style of treatment administration and other qualities of the therapist appear to contribute substantially to the impact of the treatment itself. Those therapists who also exhibit greater interest in their patients, greater confidence in their treatments, and higher professional status, all appear to promote stronger placebo effects in their patients."

Kicking the habit

"Addiction involves the exposure to something and then the behaviour seeking to repeat the experience very often. Over time the addiction becomes established. There is regular and increasing consumption, with the takers knowing their habit is expensive, unhealthy and possibly illegal but seemingly being unable to give it up."

"With regard to drugs, the psychiatric literature distinguishes between substance dependence and abuse. Both have technical meaning. Dependence has very specific characteristics like tolerance (people take more and more for limited effect); withdrawal symptoms (on not taking the drug); obsessions with trying to get hold of the drug; a deterioration in all social, occupational and recreational activities; and continued use with full knowledge of all the damage that is being done. … Abuse means using the drug despite the need to fulfil various school, home and work obligations; use in dangerous situations (driving, at work); use despite illegal behaviour; use despite persistent negative side-effects."

Lost touch

"Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness characterized by a disorder of thoughts and perceptions, behaviours and moods. … They tend to have various manifestations of thought disorders (disorganized, irrational thinking), delusions and hallucinations. They tend to lack energy, initiative and social contacts. They are emotionally very flat, have few pleasures and are withdrawn."

"The classification of schizophrenia remains complex because of the diversity of symptoms. These include delusions; hallucinations; disorganized speech (incoherence, loose association, use of nonsense words); disorganized behaviour (dress, body posture, personal hygiene); negative, flat emotions; poor insight into their problems; and depression. Because of complications with the diagnosis, various subtypes have been named. Thus there is paranoid and catatonic schizophrenia. Catatonics (from the Greek ‘to stretch or draw tight’) often adopt odd, stationary poses for long periods of time. Paranoid schizophrenics have delusions of control, grandeur and persecution and are consistently suspicious of all around them. Disorganized schizophrenics manifest bizarre thoughts and language, with sudden inappropriate emotional outbursts. Some psychiatrists mention simple or undifferentiated schizophrenia. Others have distinguished between acute (sudden, severe onset) and chronic (prolonged, gradual onset). Another distinction is between Type I (mostly positive symptoms) and Type II (mostly negative symptoms)."

"There is still no complete agreement about the subtypes or the precise ‘deficits’ in functioning, though these usually come under four headings: cognitive or thinking; perceptual or seeing; motor or moving; emotional or feeling."

Not neurotic, just different

"Anti-psychiatry critics questioned three things: the medicalization of madness; the existence of mental illness; and the power of psychiatrists to diagnose and treat certain individuals with compulsion. Anti-psychiatry was more than anti-custodial: it was often anti-state, almost anarchic. It saw many state institutions, particularly mental hospitals, as distorting and repressing the human spirit and potential in various groups."

"One of the most famous anti-psychiatry studies was done in the early 1970s. Eight ‘normal’, mentally healthy researchers tried to gain admission, through diagnosis, to a number of American mental hospitals. The only symptom they reported was hearing voices. Seven were diagnosed as schizophrenic and admitted. Once in the hospital they behaved normally and were ignored when they politely asked for information. They later reported that their diagnostic label of schizophrenia meant they had low status and power in the hospital. Then they ‘came clean’ and admitted they had no symptoms and felt fine. But it took nearly three weeks before they were discharged, often with the diagnosis ‘schizophrenia in remission’. So normal, healthy people could easily be diagnosable as ‘abnormal’. But could the reverse happen? The same researchers told psychiatric hospital staff that fake or pseudopatients pretending to be schizophrenics may try to gain access to their hospital. They then found that 19 genuine patients were suspected as frauds by two or more members of staff, including a psychiatrist."

Seem sane

"Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by people who have no conscience and are incapable of empathy, guilt or loyalty to anyone but themselves. Sociopathy is a non-psychiatric condition and refers to those who are anti-social and criminal and follow the norms of a particular subculture."

"Overall psychopaths tend to be impulsive and irresponsible, with few clear life goals. They have a history of problems with authority and poor behavioural controls. They lack empathy and remorse and never accept responsibility for their actions. … The first response to being found out is to escape, leaving colleagues, family or debtors to pick up the pieces. They do so without a qualm. The next response is to lie with apparent candour and sincerity even under oath and even to parents and loved ones. They behave as if social rules and regulations do not really apply to them. They have no respect for authorities and institutions, families and traditions."

  1. Psychopaths show a disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others. They often have a history of being difficult, delinquent or dangerous.
  2. They fail to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviours (repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest, imprisonment and serious detention). This includes, lying, stealing and cheating.
  3. They are always deceitful, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure. They are nasty, aggressive, con artists – the sort who often get profiled on business crime programmes.
  4. They are massively impulsive and fail to plan ahead. They live only in, and for, the present.
  5. They show irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults. They can’t seem to keep still – ever.
  6. They manifest a reckless disregard for the physical and psychological safety of others.
  7. They are consistently irresponsible. Repeated failure to sustain consistent work behaviour or to honour financial obligations are their hallmark.
  8. They show a lack of remorse. They are indifferent to, or rationalize, having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another. They never learn from their mistakes. It can seem that labelling them as anti-social is a serious understatement."

"They avoid group/committee meetings because they say very different things to different people and can’t present a single façade or voice that is coherent. Co-workers, colleagues and reports are frequently abandoned when their usefulness is at an end. They deliberately create conflict between individuals to try to prevent them sharing information about them. All detractors are ‘neutralized’ not so much by violence or threats but by raising doubts about their integrity and loyalty as well as their competence. Psychopaths seek out organizations in flux or change as well as those with poor monitoring systems so that they are rarely threatened or challenged."


Challenge and support at work:

"Three components: Firstly, stress can be a function of the make-up of the individual, particularly their personality, ability and biography. Secondly, there are features about the environment (job, family, organization), usually but not exclusively considered in terms of the work environment. Thirdly, there is how the individual and the environment perceive, define but more importantly try to cope with stress, strains and pressures."

"Coping One distinction that has been made is between problem-focused coping (aimed at problem-solving or doing something to alter the source of stress) and emotion-focused coping (aimed at reducing or managing the emotional distress that is associated with, or cued by, a particular set of circumstances). Emotion-focused responses can involve denial; others involve positive reinterpretation of events; and still others involve the seeking out of social support. Similarly, problem-focused coping can potentially involve several distinct activities, such as planning, taking direct action, seeking assistance, screening out particular activities, and sometimes stopping acting for an extended period.
* Optimism: a buffer against stress Optimists are hopeful in their outlook on life, interpret a wide range of situations in a positive light, and tend to expect favourable outcomes and results. Pessimists, by contrast, interpret many situations negatively, and expect unfavourable outcomes and results. Optimists concentrate on problem-focused coping – making and enacting specific plans for dealing with sources of stress. In addition, they seek social support – the advice and help of friends and others – and refrain from engaging in other activities until current problems are solved and stress is reduced.
* Hardiness: viewing stress as a challenge Hardy people appear to differ from others in three respects. They show a higher level of commitment – deeper involvement in their jobs and other life activities; control – the belief that they can, in fact, influence important events in their lives and the outcomes they experience; and challenge – they perceive change as a challenge and an opportunity to grow rather than as a threat to their security."

Visual illusions

"It has been suggested that all illusions fall into one of four groups: ambiguities, distortions, paradoxes and factions. Of course illusions are of particular interest to visual scientists and cognitive psychologists because they give an important insight into the process of perception.

Psychophysics (physics of the mind)

"A simple psychophysics question becomes ‘What is the chain of events that begins with a stimulus and leads up to reports such as “a bright red”, or “a loud noise”?’ The details of this sequence obviously differ for each sense but there are always three basic steps: a stimulus to a sense receptor; a neural chain of events caused by this stimulus – it is changed into an electric signal and then into a nerve impulse; a psychological response to the message (sensation)."



Are you conscious?

Positive psychology

Emotional intelligence

What are emotions for?

Cognitive therapy

IQ and you

Flynn effect

Multiple intelligences

Cognitive differences

Rorschach inkblot test

Detecting lies

Authoritarian personality

Obedience to authority

Fitting in

Self-sacrifice or selfishness

Cognitive dissonance

Gambler's fallacy

Judgement and problem-solving

Too much invested to quit

Rational decision-making

Remembrance of things past

What the witness saw

Artificial intelligence

Perchance to dream

Try to forget

Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon

Psychosexual stages

Cognitive stages

Ducks in a row

Tabula rasa

Stay hungry


Reinforcement schedules

Mastering complexity


Breaking up is hard to do



Who's that?

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Last modified 02 June 2023