“Normal Deviance” — Changing Norms Under Abnormal Circumstances

  • Matthias C. Angermeyer


One of the strategies widely used in family research consists of comparing families containing a schizophrenic offspring with families in which no psychiatric disorder occurs. Whereas the first group is considered “abnormal”, “pathologic” or even “pathogenic” the second is used as a “normal” control. Differences observed between both groups are seen as indications of familial abnormalities which presumably either preceded the onset of the disorder or appeared subsequently in reaction to it. The first interpretation all too readily ignores that these families are exposed to one of the most devastating and catastrophic events that they can experience. And not only family researchers are prone to this scotoma. If you take, for example, one of the most elaborate interview schedules of stressful life events, you will find virtually every major event concievable in an individual’s life but you will miss the fact that a close relative had become mentally ill. The alternative interpretation which focuses on the impact of the psychiatric illness on the family shares one problem with the first interpretation. It overemphasizes the pathologic aspect which considers differences in interaction patterns between index and control families almost automatically as abnormalities and deviances. Both views tend to neglect that the standard norms that used to govern family life might have become obsolete and that new norms have emerged that may prove to be more appropriate. Behavioral styles, attitudes, interactional modes under normal conditions considered deviant or abnormal may in fact indicate a successful adaptation to the new situation. And the reverse might also be true although it may at first glance appear somewhat paradoxical, namely that behavior usually defined as “normal” could be an indication of insufficient adaptation and therefore “a-normal”.


Schizophrenic Patient Contrast Group Normal Deviance Behavioral Style Phrenic Patient 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthias C. Angermeyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Medizinische Hochschule HannoverHannover 61Germany

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