PSYCH401: Abnormal Behavior

Course Syllabus for "PSYCH401: Abnormal Behavior"

Please note: this legacy course does not offer a certificate and may contain broken links and outdated information. Although archived, it is open for learning without registration or enrollment. Please consider contributing updates to this course on GitHub (you can also adopt, adapt, and distribute this course under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license). To find fully-supported, current courses, visit our Learn site.

Abnormal psychology is one of the most recognizable and intriguing subfields of study in psychology. Part of what makes this field so intriguing is that it challenges us to define what is normal and abnormal. Most experts in the field have settled on several criteria to define abnormal behavior; however, this definition and even the very existence of certain disorders still remain a source of debate. This course will help us to define abnormal and normal behaviors and to group these abnormal phenomena into disorders. These disorders are used to capture a particular type of abnormal psychological phenomena and to help us diagnose or make an educated decision regarding what disorder a patient/client may have. In order to distinguish between different disorders, clinicians often use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which identifies the specific criteria used when diagnosing patients/clients. This manual represents the industry standard for psychologists and psychiatrists, who often work together to diagnose and treat psychological disorders. The current version of this manual is the text revision of the 4th edition (DSM-IV-TR), but a 5th edition is planned for release in May of 2013. Another intriguing component of the field of abnormal psychology is the question of what causes the development of particular disorders. In hard sciences, researchers can easily manipulate conditions and isolate variables. The results from these studies are often fairly convincing and provide scientists and laypersons alike with a relatively unambiguous explanation for the questions posed within each respective field. However, in abnormal psychology, the unit of analysis is human behavior, which is complex and often prohibits our ability to manipulate variables of interest in empirical studies. This means that the conclusions we draw are often up for debate, and hard and fast answers are often hard to come by. With that said, our current understanding of the factors which contribute to the development and maintenance of symptoms associated with these disorders is far more advanced than it was even 20 years ago. The first section of this course will begin by defining normal versus abnormal behavior and reviewing the historical context in which abnormal psychology emerged. It is important to note that historical context will be woven throughout the course, as it helps to anchor our current understanding of the field and the disorders it characterizes. We will then discuss the major theories or paradigms associated with abnormal psychology, the classification system used to differentiate and define disorders, and the research methods often used in the study of abnormal psychology. After we have learned the basic terminology and parameters which define abnormal psychology, we will move on to the second section of this course, which addresses individual disorders, their treatments, and common explanations concerning their origins. This section represents the majority of the content of this course and will cover anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, eating and sleeping disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, dissociative disorders, and personality disorders. This course will cover the basic concepts surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal psychological phenomena. While you may have a basic understanding of the disorders addressed, we will cover each disorder in great detail. At the close of this course, you will have a much clearer picture of the characteristics of individual disorders, the epidemiology and prevalence of these disorders, the controversy surrounding these disorders, and the popular groups of both medication and psychosocial interventions used to treat these disorders.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • describe the historical context from which the current conceptualization of abnormal psychology has evolved;
  • identify and describe the main theoretical perspectives/paradigms which have influenced the field of abnormal psychology;
  • identify and differentiate the classification of psychological disorders;
  • evaluate treatment approaches; and
  • explain the major research findings for each group of disorders and how they add to our knowledge of the causes and treatment of psychological disorders.    

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    have access to a computer;

√    have continuous broadband Internet access;

√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash);

√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;

√    have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.);

√    be competent in the English language;

√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook; and

√    have completed all courses listed in the Core Program of the psychology discipline: PSYCH 101: Introduction to PsychologyPSYCH 201: Introduction to StatisticsPSYCH 202A: Research Methods, PSYCH 202B: Research Methods Lab, PSYCH 203: Introduction to Molecular and Cellular Biology, PSYCH 204: Introduction to Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, PSYCH 205: Clinical Psychology, and PSYCH 206: Cognitive Psychology.

Course Information

Welcome to PSYCH401: Abnormal Behavior. General information about this course and its requirements can be found below.  

Course Designer: Helena (Mimi) Martin

Primary Resources: This course comprises a range of different free, online materials. However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials. Pay special attention to Units 1–3, as these lay the groundwork for understanding the more advanced, exploratory material presented in the latter units. You will also need to complete:

  • Subunit 4.3.2 Assessment
  • Unit 7 Assessment
  • Unit 8 Assessment
  • The Final Exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through all of the course materials, including the assessments listed above. 
In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 95.5 hours to complete. Each unit includes a time advisory that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories, to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then set goals for yourself. For example, Unit 1 should take you 4 hours to complete, and Unit 2 should take approximately 8.25 hours to complete. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete Unit 1 (a total of 4 hours) on Monday night; the introduction to Unit 2 (a total of 2.5 hours) on Tuesday night; subunit 2.1 (a total of 3.75 hours) on Wednesday night; and so forth.

Tips/Suggestions: As clinical psychology and psychotherapy address abnormal behavior, there are several units within the clinical psychology and psychotherapy courses which overlap with the content of this course. If you have already taken these courses, it may be helpful to review some of the applicable material, particularly if you think you would benefit from additional clarity on a topic addressed in this course. If you have not taken these courses, please note that although there is crossover in the content addressed, each course is developed to reflect different vantage points within the field of psychology. This particular course aims to give you an understanding of the basis of human behavior, what defines behavior gone awry, what happens when behavior is defined as abnormal, and the multiple perspectives on the causes and treatment of various disorders. 

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.