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Abnormal behaviour

Two incidents caught my attention over the last week or so. One was the naked woman in town and the other one was the outburst of profanities from an “honourable member” of Parliament in the House of Assembly. Both occurrences caused many people to ask the question: Why did these behaviours occur?

Generally, these forms of behaviour are not unusual. Some time ago a man also stripped naked in our fair city, and I am sure that many would remember that the honourable members of the House are known to have their sessions with each other, so this behaviour is not new.

The difference between then and now is the presence of technological devises that would enable the “common man”, or if I may borrow a phrase from a certain honourable member, “poor people”, to know about these behaviours.

While many onlookers and listeners as the case may be, seemed to find these behaviours amusing, psychology professionals found both affairs rather disturbing, especially the case of the naked woman. Let me explain: Over the years I would often overhear many adults say that “there is a thin line between insanity and sanity”. Although I have heard these words many times over, only while reading about the great depression of the 1930s did I realise the severity of the situation.

One account that stood out is that of people jumping from tall buildings because all of their earnings and jobs had suddenly vanished. There are also some reports that suggest that shortly after the devaluation of the dollar in one Caribbean island, some individuals got up and walked into the sea and drowned themselves. The question on most people’s lips is: Why does this behaviour occur?

With the exception of the expletives in the House of Assembly, professionals in the field of psychology have suggested that abnormal behaviour occurs as a result of a myriad of reasons. The article this week is about the various causes of abnormal behaviour.

Research has revealed that abnormal behaviour is so multifaceted that it is as difficult to define as the behaviour itself. For instance, one set of specialists argue that this type of behaviour is as a result of biological factors. Now this is not as simple as it may appear. Firstly, biological factors comprise a constellation of sub-factors that may bore you readers to tears, but are relevant nevertheless in arriving at the root cause of the behaviour. Such factors include the role of genetics where parents transmit behaviour to children through their DNA.

Biologists also argue that the impact of injury or infection to the embryo or to the infant after birth could result in this behaviour. Likewise, some malformation of the nervous system including damage to the brain or spinal cord could impact on other sensory receptors and hence also have a negative effect on behaviour (Sarason &Sarason, 1999).

Others argue that our thoughts and emotions play a very important role in the formation of abnormal behaviour. For instance, psychodynamic specialists believe that our conscious or unconscious state could impact on memories causing heightened anxiety levels which we control with the use of defence mechanisms.

Now please do not stop reading, this part is very interesting. Examples of defence mechanisms could range from creating believable excuses (a husband who comes in late and blames the wife for not calling him to remind him of the time) or displacing emotional feelings (like a boss who takes out frustrations with his wife on colleagues) to projecting negative feelings on to others (such as accusing others of behaviour which they themselves are often guilty).

More contemporary forms of defence mechanisms include certain aspects of denial like refusing to recognise reality, especially when we perceive that our self-esteem would be under attack. An example is where we as humans deceive ourselves that we are not racist or prejudiced by being overly positive towards people of different races or class (The American psychologists, 2000).

Moreover, there are those who believe that our environment (social learning) plays an important role in the development of abnormal behaviour. For instance, psychologists believe that behaviour is as a result of classical conditioning (pairing of two stimuli, like pairing sexual fantasy with the smell of a certain fragrance).

Another example can be found in operant conditioning when a partner’s behaviour is followed by love and attention or punishment. They are also those who believe that all things considered, we learn our behaviour vicariously, in other words by not only observing the behaviour of others but what rewards and punishments they receive for the given behaviour (Sarason &Sarason, 1999).

So what do I mean by this, you may ask. You see, we learn from others in our environment how to regard abnormal behaviour. Case in point: Immediately after the expletives in the House of Assembly occurred the other day certain honourable members were observed “killing” themselves with laughter at this behaviour. Simultaneously, some onlookers who witnessed the naked woman found the whole debacle amusing, which they conveyed by their loud comments and sniggers.

In neither case was anyone seen or heard admonishing the behaviour of these individuals. On the one hand, the laughter seemed to suggest a reward for such behaviour while on the other, the sniggers appeared to suggest a lack of concern for one who showed outward signs of a serious illness.

There are other causes of abnormal behaviour and these relate to how people interpret information when problem solving. You see, our interpretation of life’s problems can at times be faulty and often result in maladaptive behaviour.

Specifically, we may have certain expectations about ourselves, like by the age of 40 we want to be married and have a house with a couple of kids. Suppose you lost your job and are unable to achieve this expectation, some people would not be able to cope with this disappointment and may act abnormally. (Sarason &Sarason, 1999).

In particular, our own interpretation of these events may result in producing abnormal behaviour which could be demonstrated by either the use of expletive language or extreme depression where we strip naked and walk the street. It is as simple as that.

Moreover, our own community often plays a role in the development of abnormal behaviour. This is often illustrated in the role poverty, under-education and cultural diversity plays in the formation of maladaptive behaviours. Moreover, social roles like labelling can result in the categorising of individuals (stereotyping) on the basis of their social status. These labels prevent others from seeing the true characteristics of the individual and the value they can add to society, as a result abnormal behaviour may occur (Sarason &Sarason, 1999).

Finally, when we consider all the above causes we cannot help but realise that this form of behaviour can occur in anyone at any given point in time. This is because stressful events in life can suddenly result in abnormal behaviour.

All in all, before we sit in our “ivory towers” and pretend that abnormal behaviour only occurs with someone else, we should try to understand this behaviour. Since the flip side is the failure to understand ourselves which only increases social isolation and the danger of falling on our own petard. This is no laughing matter. Until next time…

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