AP Psychology Unit 14: Abnormal Psychology

Deborah C. Escalante

AP Psychology Unit 14: Abnormal Psychology
AP Psychology Unit 14: Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal psychology is the study of atypical behaviors, emotions, and thoughts that deviate from cultural and societal norms. It is an intriguing field that delves into the complexity of human behavior and the diverse range of mental illnesses. In this article, we will discuss the main concepts, theories, and disorders that are related to abnormal psychology.

Defining Abnormality

One of the main challenges in abnormal psychology is defining what is considered abnormal. Abnormal behaviors, emotions, and thoughts can be subjective, and what is normal in one culture or society may not be normal in another. There are several criteria that psychologists use to determine abnormality, including:

  • Statistical Rarity: Behaviors that are rare or infrequent in a given population may be considered abnormal.
  • Deviation from Social Norms: Behaviors that violate societal or cultural norms may be deemed abnormal.
  • Discomfort or Dysfunction: Behaviors that cause significant distress to the individual or interfere with their daily functioning may be seen as abnormal.
  • Biological Dysfunction: Behaviors that result from biological or neurological abnormalities may also be classified as abnormal.

It’s important to note that abnormality is not an all-or-nothing concept, and there is a spectrum of normality and abnormality.

Theories of Abnormal Psychology

Many theories have attempted to explain the causes of abnormal behavior, including biological, psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and humanistic approaches. The biological approach suggests that mental illnesses are caused by physiological factors, such as genetics or brain chemistry. The psychodynamic approach emphasizes unconscious conflicts and childhood experiences as the root of abnormal behavior. The behavioral approach focuses on the environmental factors that shape behavior, while the cognitive approach emphasizes how thoughts and beliefs influence behavior. The humanistic approach suggests that self-actualization and personal growth are essential for mental health.

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Common Disorders in Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal psychology encompasses a wide range of disorders, each with its unique symptoms, causes, and treatments. Some common disorders include:

  • Anxiety Disorders: Disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder involve excessive and persistent anxiety or fear.
  • Mood Disorders: Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder involve significant changes in mood, energy, and behavior.
  • Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that involves delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thoughts.
  • Personality Disorders: Personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder involve maladaptive patterns of behavior and thought.

Treatment for Abnormal Behavior

There are various treatments available for individuals with abnormal behavior, including therapy, medication, and alternative approaches. Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained professional to address underlying issues and develop coping strategies. Medication can be used to alleviate symptoms of mental illnesses, such as antidepressants for depression or antipsychotics for schizophrenia. Alternative approaches such as mindfulness meditation and yoga can also be helpful in managing symptoms and promoting mental health.


Abnormal psychology is a fascinating field that delves into the complexity of human behavior and mental illness. Understanding abnormality can help reduce stigma and promote empathy for individuals with mental illnesses. By recognizing abnormal behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, we can work towards developing effective treatments and interventions to improve the lives of those affected by mental illness.

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