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Health and sanity

Rashmi Vasudeva
Features writer on health, lifestyle and the Arts, digital marketing blogger, mother
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piqer: Rashmi Vasudeva
Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The New Normal: There Is No Normal

This is the elephant in the neuroscience room and at last it is being called out, loud and clear.

All of us have wondered at one point or the other whether we are normal; whether what we do, be it the number of times we wash our hair or the frequency of our lovemaking, is normal or freakish. We are, consciously or otherwise, always a little wary (or a little proud) of being ‘off the main path’ and we look for constant external confirmation of how quirky our bodies and behaviours are. Just type in “Is it normal to…" in a Google search and observe the range of options it will throw up.

Just like all of us, neuroscientists too are wondering aloud about the word ‘normal’—how casually it is used, how dangerously it puts our minds, behaviors and emotions into boxes, and how it restricts our understanding of human nature.

In the latest paper in the growing body of research on what is considered ‘standard’ or optimal behavior, two Yale scientists argue that there is, in fact, no ‘normal’ and we are all a little weird and that is okay. They present a compelling case for moving beyond the traditional concepts of fixed entities to analyse behavior and contend that this will have huge clinical implications in the future.

This rings true because, presently, mental pathology works on the assumption that there is a deviation from ‘normal’ behavior across a large population that needs to be ‘fixed’. What the scientists are arguing against is this lumping together of non-normal behaviors; this kind of diagnosis fails to recognize the great variability of traits humans have due to evolutionary and environmental reasons.

This line of argument of course greatly complicates the already tough task of decoding and treating mental illnesses. But as one of the researchers says, this difficulty should not prevent us from recognizing that an artificial construct of ‘ideal’ is restricting our understanding of mental variability, both in ourselves and in the people around us.

The New Normal: There Is No Normal
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