Is “normal” really normal?

We’ve been conditioned to think that “normal” means typical, expected, and correct. But what if we’ve been wrong all along? Yana Buhrer Tavanier explores the concept of normality and why it may not be as straightforward as we think.

In statistics, a normal distribution follows a bell curve, with most values falling within the hump. But when we apply a standard of normal to all of humanity based on non-representative data, we’re choosing from the wrong distribution. A lot of behavior science research draws from samples that are pretty WEIRD — meaning Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. These features can skew norms even in research that doesn’t have an obvious link to them.

To this day, people are often targeted and discriminated against on the basis of disabilities, mental health issues, sexual orientations, gender identities, and other features deemed “not normal.”

But the reality is that the differences in our bodies, minds, perceptions, and ideas about the world around us — in short, diversity — is the true normal.

Yana Buhrer Tavanier: What is “normal” and what is “different”?