Do you know what normal means?

The Normal Distribution with average in the center.

The Normal Distribution with average in the center.

One meaning of normal is what is typical, i.e. what most people do. But a recent paper in the journal Cognition argues when people think about what is normal, they combine their sense of what is typical with their sense of what is ideal. In other words, normal is a blend of statistics and model behavior.

Ask yourself, “What is the average number of hours of TV that people watch in a day?” Think of an answer before answering the next question.

“What is the normal number of hours of TV for a person to watch in a day?”

If you are like most participants in an experiment, you didn’t give the same answer. The experiment’s participants averaged four for the first question and three for the second. The results were the same for other scenarios.

So why did I find this interesting? Or why does anybody?

The researchers found it potentially dangerous as human minds are blending what is right and ideal with what is typical, and it is this blending that is of concern. It suggests that it is human nature to think that if everybody does it, it’s okay because it’s normal. Every parent rejects the “everybody does it” excuse from their offspring, but may harbor a tendency to that kind of thinking, themselves.

An argument I have always disliked is the slippery slope. If we accept A, it will lead to B and on to Z, which is perfectly horrible. Therefore, reject A. I have always argued that we are in control at each step we wish to take and will stop when appropriate. Now, I wonder if I am wrong and that as A becomes normalized, B looks less atypical and so on. Upon rethinking I  may agree that the slope is slippier than I thought, but that means we need to wear track shoes and be vigilant about our thinking.

Never should be normal

Never should be normal

We must take charge of our brains. We cannot let daily occurrence of atrocities become acceptable because it is typical. In today’s world, all of us can provide numerous examples that should cause outrage and not be normalized.

Inspired and adapted from:

2 thoughts on “Do you know what normal means?

  1. My parents said this to me and I said it to my children many times-just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right or normal. Thanks for passing the thoughts in this article on-I think everyone should be taught to think for themselves and not rely on others opinions or actions to influence their own thoughts and actions!


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