Rosenhan and Seligman (1989) – Definitions

Rosenhan, D. L. “8: Seligman, MEP (1989). Abnormal psychology . New York: WM.”



This is the second study we will be looking at from the ‘Diagnosis of Dysfunctional Behaviour’ section of ‘Dysfunctional Behaviour’, as part of your OCR A2 Health and Clinical Psychology course. It is further categorised into ‘Definitions.’

One way of defining dysfunctional behaviour is through statistics. For example the average IQ is 100 and anything below 70 and above 130 is considered abnormal.

Another way of defining dysfunctional behaviour is through deviation from social norms. This definition views abnormality in terms of the breaking of society’s standards or norms. Abnormal behaviour can be seen as behaviour that deviates from or violates society’s implicit or explicit rules and moral standards.

Another way to define abnormality is through looking at the failure to function adequately.

This definition views abnormality as the failure to experience the normal range of emotions or to engage in the normal range of behaviour. Indicators of the failure to function adequately, as identified by Rosenhan and Seligman, include:

  • Dysfunctional behaviour
  • Personal distress
  • Observer discomfort
  • Unpredictable behaviour
  • Irrational behaviour.

A fourth way of define abnormality is through observing the deviation from ideal mental health.

This definition identifies characteristics people should possess in order to be considered normal. Jahoda identified criteria by which mental health might be defined, including:

  • Positive view of self
  • Personal growth and self-actualisation
  • Autonomy 
  • Accurate view of reality.


Rosenhan, D. L. “8: Seligman, MEP (1989). Abnormal psychology . New York: WM.”

Further Reading

OCR A2 Psychology Student Unit Guide New Edition: Unit G543 Health and Clinical Psychology (Student Unit Guides)

Psych Yogi’s Top Ten Psychology Revision Tips for the A* Student

Article Name
Rosenhan and Seligman (1989) - Definitions
'Diagnosis of Dysfunctional Behaviour' revise of 'Dysfunctional Behaviour' OCR A2 Health & Clinical Psychology exam. Revision categorised into 'Definitions.'