Abnormal glossary

The following page is simply a glossary of terms to assist students with the abnormal psychology unit.  If there is a term that is missing from this list and you would like a clear definition, please let me know.

To make the glossary a bit more readable, the terms are divided into terminology related to research, concepts in abnormal psychology and specific theories.

Terminology related to research

Cross-sectional design: Comparing two or more groups on a particular variable at a specific time. The opposite is a longitudinal design where the researcher measures change in an individual over time.

Double-blind testing: an experimental procedure in which neither the researcher doing the study nor the participants know the specific type of treatment each participant receives until after the experiment is over; a double-blind procedure is used to guard against both experimenter bias and placebo effects.

Longitudinal study:  research over a period of time using observations, interviews or psychometric testing.  (Similar to a repeated measures design in an experiment).

Meta-analysis: Pooling data from multiple studies of the same research question to arrive at one combined answer.

Prospective research:  A study that attempts to find a correlation between two variables by collecting data early in the life of participants and then continuing to test them over a period of time to measure change and development.

Protective factors: conditions or attributes in individuals, families or the larger society that, when present, lessen or eliminate the risk of mental disorders.

Risk factors: conditions or attributes in individuals, families or the larger society that, when present, increase the risk of mental disorders.

Single blind testing: an experiment in which the researchers know which participants are receiving a treatment and which are not; however, the participants do not know which condition they are in.

Treatment-Etiology Fallacy: This is the false belief that since a treatment works, it was a lack of whatever the treatment was that caused the disorder. MacLeod (1998) cites the example of aspirin curing headache as a more obvious example. Although taking aspirin cures our headache we would not assume that it was lack of aspirin that caused it in the first place.

Abnormal concepts

Adverse childhood experiences: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan.

Comorbidity: the idea that often there is more than one disorder that influences a person's behaviour. This is part of why diagnosis is difficult. One may be alcoholic and depressed. The alcoholism may or may not be directly linked to the depression.

Confirmation bias: when a researcher is biased by his/her own hypothesis. In other words, a researcher sees what he wants to see. So, if a psychiatrist believes that most women suffer from depression, he is more likely to pay attention to symptoms or statements from the client that confirm this assumption, potentially leading to an incorrect diagnosis.

Emic approaches to diagnosis: An emic approach does not assume that the traits of normalcy and of mental illness are universal. An emic approach uses local healers and professionals to determine how these terms are defined within the constraints of their own culture.

Etic approaches to diagnosis: An etic approach assumes that normalcy and mental illness is universal. They apply a standard (e.g.. the DSM) to assess the level of mental illness cross-culturally.

Etiology: The origin or potential cause of a disorder.

Iatrogenic effects: symptoms that result in response to a treatment, which then can be mistaken as part of the disorder. The classic example is tardive dyskinesia, involuntary, repetitive body movements which were the result of taking chlorpromazine to treat schizophrenia. Another example comes from Freudian therapy where false memories may have been created as part of trying to retrieve repressed memories or dream analysis. This could have led to anxiety which would further complicate the diagnosis and treatment.

Overpathologization: when a person is more likely to be diagnosed with a specific disorder simply because of gender, culture or age. For example, ADHD is overpathologized in teenagers; depression is overpathologized in women.

Prevalence: the proportion of a population found to have a disorder. Lifetime prevalence" (LTP) is the proportion of a population that at some point in their life have experienced the disorder.

Reactivity: when individuals alter their performance or behavior due to the awareness that they are being observed. This is one of the fundamental problems of diagnosis.

Relapse rate: the rate at which symptoms return after treatment has been discontinued.

Reliability of diagnosis: when different psychiatrists agree on a client's diagnosis using the same diagnostic system.

Reporting bias: selective revealing or suppression of information by clients when meeting with a doctor - for example, about past medical history, smoking, sexual experiences. Reporting bias also refers to the extent to which different genders and ethnic group seek psychological help and the types of information that they are willing to disclose to a psychiatrist.

Rumination: Repetitively focusing on one's symptoms of depression and the possible causes and consequences of these symptoms.

Self-fulfilling prophecy: in diagnosis, when a person who is diagnosed with a disorder may begin to demonstrate symptoms due to the belief that s/he has the disorder. So, a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder may result in a person developing symptoms.

Sick role bias: one of the key obstacles to objective and valid diagnosis. When a person comes to a clinic to seek assistance, it is assumed that there is a problem and the psychiatrist needs to find out what it is. It is possible that the individual actually has no disorder.

Somatization: When an individual experiences psychological distress in the form of physiological symptoms; for example, Kleinman has found that many Chinese do have a "sad mood" when they experience depression, but instead they experience lower back pain.

SSRIs: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors - the most famous of which is Prozac. SSRIs block the reuptake of serotonin by the terminal buttons, leaving more in the synapse.

Stigmatization: when a person is labeled as an outcast or having poor character. Often people that are diagnosed with schizophrenia will be stigmatized by others or feel stigmatized in society.

Underpathologization: when a person is less likely to be diagnosed with a specific disorder simply because of gender, culture or age. Men may be underpathologized for depression; 40-year-olds may be underpathologized for ADHD.

Validity of diagnosis: the extent to which a diagnosis is accurate and leads to a successful treatment.

Theories in abnormal psychology

CBT: Cognitive behavioural therapy - aka, cognitive restructuring. This is based on Beck's theory of faulty thinking. The job of the therapist is to help reshape the schema of the client by pointing out errors in thinking as well as giving "homework" which helps them to challenge how they think.

Diathesis-Stress Model: The theory that behavior may be the result of a genetic predisposition which is "activated" by stress from life experiences. This approach is an interactionist approach which looks at how biological and environmental factors interact in order to cause behavior - in this case, depression.

Genetic vulnerability: The theory that some people may have the right genes for a disorder, but that they may not have been "turned on." These people have a potential to develop the disorder depending on life circumstances, diet or level of exercise. Other factors may also play a role in whether the genes are expressed or not.

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