Difference Between Adaptive and Maladaptive Behavior

Adaptive vs Maladaptive Behavior

The main difference between adaptive and maladaptive behavior is their behavioral patterns. In psychology, we speak of two forms of behavior. They are adaptive and maladaptive behavior. These are opposite to one another. Adaptive behavior is behavior that is positive and functional to the individual. It allows the individual to relieve anxiety. However, a maladaptive behavior is quite different from adaptive behavior. This usually entails behavioral patterns that are dysfunctional to the individual. This is the key difference between these two forms of behavior. Through this article let us examine the differences between the two types of behavior.

What is Adaptive behavior?

Adaptive behavior allows individuals to adapt in a positive manner to various situations. It is a functional adjustment to a particular behavior. Adaptive behavior creates a condition where the individual can truly develop and grow. In our day to day life, if a particular behavior is constructive and productive it can be considered as adaptive behavior.

For example, when an individual faces a problem in life, he uses various techniques to find solutions by coming to terms with the condition. This is a form of adaptive behavior. Unlike in the case of maladaptive behavior, the individual does not run away from the situation, or avoid it, but faces the situation. This is usually considered as healthy behavior.

Difference Between Adaptive and Maladaptive Behavior

Adaptive behavior faces problems without fear

What is Maladaptive behavior?

Maladaptive behavior can be viewed as the direct opposite of adaptive behavior. It is a negative form of behavior which harms the individual. In abnormal psychology, this term is used extensively to refer to conditions which detriment the well-being of an individual. When the anxiety that an individual feels is not lessened through individual behavior and is only dysfunctional to the individual, these types of behaviors are considered maladaptive. In this sense, maladaptive behavior is coping mechanisms that are not productive. Instead of relieving the anxiety and tension that the individual feels, it leads to the creation of further health problems. For example, substance abuse is a maladaptive behavior that harms the individual even though it provides a momentary relief. In the long run, this is dysfunctional to the individual as it can lead to severe health conditions.

Maladaptive behavior does not lead to personal growth and development of the individual but causes the downfall of a human being. On one level, it hinders the development of the individual where he or she feels unable to find a solution to the anxiety experienced. This inability to accept one’s condition leads to disruptions in person life as well as professional life. Such an individual may encounter difficulties not only in day to day chores but also in handling relationships.

Adaptive vs Maladaptive Behavior

Maladaptive behavior runs away from problems

Psychologists use various behavioral therapies in order to treat maladaptive behavioral patterns. In behavioral therapy, the focus is on the present condition. Through methods such as counseling, individuals who suffer from maladaptive behavior realize their true condition by opening up and accepting their anxiety and fears. Then the counselor and the client work together, in order to find a solution to overcome the anxieties. This usually involves gaining more self-control and adjusting one’s maladaptive behavior.

What is the difference between Adaptive and Maladaptive Behavior?

• Definitions of Adaptive and Maladaptive Behavior:

• Adaptive behavior allows individuals to adapt in a positive manner to various situations.

• Maladaptive behavior can be viewed as a negative form of behavior which harms the individual.

• Behavioral Patterns:

• Adaptive behavior is positive and functional to the individual.

• Maladaptive behavior is negative and dysfunctional.

• Relieving Anxiety:

• Adaptive behavior relieves the anxiety in a productive manner.

• Maladaptive behavior does not. It forces the individual to avoid the situation or else engage in counter-productive behavior.

• Impact:

• Adaptive behavior enables personal growth.

• Maladaptive behavior hinders personal growth.

• Condition:

• Adaptive behavior can be viewed in healthy individuals.

• Maladaptive behavior is a symptom of psychological diseases.


Images Courtesy:

  1. A PBL group at Gadjah Mada University by Zybez (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Hair pulling stress by stuartpilbrow at Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)