What behaviors are considered abnormal in most cultures?

While I’m sure that this topic is open to much debate, I believe that one must begin by using a level of impairment perspective. In other words, regardless of what culture or society one is a member of, the behaviors must create a level of impairment within that setting. In order to make this list, the phenomenon must be observed regardless of the environment. That makes this list rather difficult, because many recognized disorders, eating disorders for example, are rare in certain cultures (Pastorino & Doyle-Portillo, 2012, p. 576). The more that I work on this list, the more I am discovering that this task is much harder than I originally expected. No matter what behavior I come up with, I can imagine an example where that behavior might be considered normal.

Hallucinations are a great example of this discrepancy. Typically, in Western cultures, experiencing hallucinations is considered extremely abnormal. However, there are other cultures where one who experiences hallucinations might be worshiped as a god or holy person. The hallucinations might even be sought out and induced by consuming some type of substance. “Epidemiological research implies that hallucinations are not necessarily concomitants of insanity but may happen to people without any psychiatric problems” (Leudar, 2001, para 6). If that is the case, that behavior may be normal for society, and for them. It may just be under reported due to the stigma attached to mental illnesses.

Suicide is another example. Suicide is considered a devastating tragedy in Western cultures, and one who is considering suicide could even be held for mandatory observation. However, in some middle eastern cultures, the religious implications of self inflicted suicide raised the individual to martyr status.

If we were to discuss phobic disorders, we would have to be careful of religious implications as well. For instance, if a person suffered from cynophobia, or a fear of dogs, could that fear stem from a religious belief in a deity from the underworld or hell in that persons culture? Many Americans suffer from some form of arachnophobia, but that unreasonable fear of spiders doesn’t seem to create a significant level of impairment.

Substance abuse regardless of the environment might be considered abnormal. However, this could be up for discussion as the use and/or abuse of caffeine is considered normal for Western cultures, and certain Native American cultures find it normal to use hallucinogens. The types of acceptable substances would definitely change, and so it becomes difficult to determine whether this behavior is abnormal or not.

Surely we wouldn’t argue that the behaviors involved with schizophrenia were abnormal. However, according to Ivan Leudar, “The term ‘hallucination’ implies an intrinsic confusion – something subjective is wrongly experienced as ‘real’ – but in fact most voice hearers are not confused in this way” (Leudar, 2001, para 1). If hallucinations are an integral part of a schizophrenia diagnosis, then maybe we should be careful as saying this behavior is abnormal. Speaking of martyrs, there is quite a bit of discussion regarding whether the Catholic martyr Joan of Arc may have suffered from schizophrenia.

Disruptive behavior disorders might be considered abnormal in most societies. They typically have a set course of rules and ways of functioning, as this is what creates any specific society and differentiates one from another. Any type of behavior viewed by the society as disruptive would probably be considered abnormal. The problem becomes one where how do you determine what is considered disruptive everywhere.

Individuals who are impulsive and disregard the rights of others seems on the outside to be a great place to draw the line on universal abnormal behaviors. It would seem that these individuals would display abnormal behaviors, that we could universally agree were abnormal. However, when I think about it, many of our Western politician display the behaviors of being, “…callous and malicious, blam[ing] others for their problems, and frequently hav[ing] difficulty maintaining relationships. They can also be superficially charming and sociable, typically in order to manipulate others into doing what they want” (Pastorino & Doyle-Portillo, 2012, p 606). Regardless of whether one has liberal or conservative leanings, most people can apply that description to a number of elected officials. These are the people we select to make our laws for us, so maybe the behavior is not that abnormal after all.

I know that it seems as if I have spent a lot of time justifying not answering the topic this week, and anyone who said so would probably be right. I would have to say that to my mind, abnormal behaviors must be viewed through a cultural filter. I would also say that in some cases it would also have to be a matter of degrees, meaning, a politician could be manipulative, but they would have to be able to draw the line at some point. The question of degrees becomes, at what point does the behavior become abnormal?

Leudar, I. (2001, Is hearing voices a sign of mental illness? Psychologist, 14, 256-256. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/211836537?accountid=27313

Pastorino, E., & Doyle-Portillo, S. (2012). What is psychology?. (3rd Edition ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.


About Maggie Morona

Maggie is the author of original content and the curator of linked content at Psyntax. She is an undergraduate student at Florida Tech. While studying Applied Psychology, she began to see how handy understanding Psychology could be when working with Social Media, and began sharing content linking the two together. She has been blogging for 2 years, and also works as a website and social media evaluator.

Posted on May 1, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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