Defining Abnormality With Consideration of Cultural Differences

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Defining Abnormality With Consideration of Cultural Differences

Cultural differences are always a problem when defining abnormality. What one would consider completely normal in one culture would be considered abnormal in another, for example the island of Java often set fire to a ball soaked in petrol and then play football with it. Here that would be considered wrong and abnormal but is an everyday occurrence for the people of Java. This concept doesn't only apply to eastern cultures; the English could be defined as abnormal by other cultures definitions, even by other western societies e.g. it would not be considered normal by the Italians to wait at a red light when there are no other cars
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When using this approach to define abnormality you would first have to consider what is normal behaviour for that particular culture otherwise a person could be incorrectly diagnosed as abnormal.

Cultural differences are also a problem for the 'Failure to Function Adequately' definition of abnormality. This classification of abnormality involves a person who conforms to their 7 characteristics of the abnormal as having ill mental health. Examples of these characteristics are vividness, unconventionality and observer discomfort. This definition does not state the extent of the characteristic in order for it to be abnormal, for example we could class the Native Americans who perform the sun dance (a ritual which involves ripping ropes out of the chests of dancers) as abnormal as we would experience discomfort from watching this behaviour, whilst Native Americans take great joy in this activity and it us used as part of their celebrations.

Other attempts to define abnormality are also limited by cultural differences, for example the DSM refers only to disorders found in westerners, it does not mention culture bound syndromes, for example Koro which is found solely in South East Asia and Pibloqtoq which occurs mainly in cold climates e.g. Greenland Alaska and the Canadian Arctic. Many disorders in the DSM are specific only to western society;

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