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7) The Cognitive Model of Abnormality

The cognitive model of abnormality states that abnormalities in behaviour come from abnormal thinking processes.  

There are two things the cognitive model says can cause abnormality, incorrect perception of reality and thinking, and incorrect processing of information.

Incorrect perception of reality and thinking

Think of the mind as a computer. We take in information from the outside world, process it, then act appropriately to the information we are given. However, if the information we are given of the outside world are incorrect in the first place, the way we act would be abnormal. This is why the cognitive approach focuses so heavily on how we think and perceive the outside world.

Imagine that you are gradually losing your hearing you might think that everyone else is talking so quietly because they are plotting against you and don’t want you to hear. From everyone else’s point of view, who know they aren’t plotting against you, your behaviour would appear abnormal. But to you, whose thoughts and perception of reality is incorrect, your behaviour seems normal.

Incorrect processing of information

Again think of the computer. We could take in the correct information of the outside world, but if we process it incorrectly we would act abnormally. An example of incorrect processing could be thinking very negatively, you might discard all the positive thoughts of the world, and only process the negative ones (a negative bias); this could lead to abnormal behaviour and disorders such as depression and anxiety.


– Cause or Consequence – The cognitive model states that the thinking comes first, and the abnormality comes second. But some psychologists argue it is possible that the abnormality comes first, which makes the person think abnormally.

– Is negative bias really negative? – The idea of negative bias says that some people process information making it seem the world is negative. But is this pessimistic thinking actually more accurate than that of optimistic people who are frequently let down?

– Does it just state the obvious? – Some psychologists think that the cognitive model does no more than state the obvious. We know that depressed people think negative thoughts; it doesn’t shed much more light onto why the person thinks these thoughts.




About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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