Sunday, 13 October 2019

What does it mean to be a normal person? The role of subjectivity, environment and social norms on normality judgments

Half of the image is a man wearing a suit and another half is a woman wearing a colourful coat with bright hair
Images by The Lazy Artist and Cloudypixel on Pexels
There is a huge debate concerning human normality. Have you ever thought about what makes someone normal compared to others? The other day, my partner reflected on normality - what does it mean to be normal? His ideas made me reflect on the subjectivity of this concept. Where does normality even come from? 

Normality has returned on the radar of people's interest, following the critically-acclaimed release of Joker. Joaquin Phoenix's raw performance shifted the viewers' attention to the difficulties in understanding normality. It also demonstrated that reality is subjective. I think that discussing the meaning of human normality is extremely relevant at the moment.

This post will explore the thin line between normality and abnormality, discussing the factors that might influence the judgments of human normality. 

Normality judgments are often shaped by societal norms 

To a large extent, normality depends on societal norms and strict structures, controlling how individuals should think and behave. These strict structures are established to ensure that society functions smoothly and efficiently.

While societal norms are employed mainly to maintain "correct" behaviour and the goodness of its citizens, it could be argued that being ruled by societal expectations can create a society filled with fearful sheep.

Naturally, every single behaviour that deviates from societal norms could be perceived as abnormal. According to the DSM5 diagnostic guidelines, mental disorders are also concerned with the “deviation from the norm”.

It makes me wonder whether we are wired to reject ideas, thoughts and behaviour that opposes the norm. Naturally, people don't like to be wrong, so there is a great problem with judging whether someone is normal or not.

Often we are not even aware of the influence that societal norms have on our normality judgments. For instance, individuals who experience significant growth in their thinking patterns, who reject the common world perceptions held by the group, tend to be perceived as slightly odd.

Being sane in insane places

David Rosenhan conducted a classic experiment in the 70s, exploring the role of the psychiatric environment on professional judgments related to patient normality (these people were admitted to the psychiatric hospital for the sake of the experiment. They pretended to hear voices to get a hospital admission, however, in reality, these people were healthy).

Although the pseudopatients behaved in ordinary ways, psychiatrists failed to discover that they are healthy individuals in an "insane" place.

Rosenhan concludes in his paper: "It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals. The hospital itself imposes a special environment in which the meaning of behaviour can easily be misunderstood".

This means that the environment is an important factor in normality judgments. This makes it even harder to say what makes someone normal. It is important to understand that the environment can influence how we perceive individuals. After all, it is difficult to control the environment in which you are born.

The role of familiarity on perceiving normality 

Normality is often described as something that is consistent with common behaviour. So, familiarity could have an impact on what we judge as normal. I think consistency can be also applied to thoughts, values, and feelings.  

For example, you could live your life consistently thinking negative thoughts about yourself. You will not question whether your thoughts are normal or not because it is something that you are used to. It makes even more difficult to make these judgments when you live in a chaotic environment. 

That's why being constantly challenged and questioned on the way that you think can be beneficial (but that's a topic in itself for another blog post :) ). 

Familiarity can affect both the internal (how you judge your own normality) and the external (how you judge the normality of others) normality judgments The role of familiarity highlights how subjective our judgments of normality are. 

The role of subjective perceptions on understanding normality 

So like I said before, people's experiences of the world are subjective. There are things that we can objectively measure and test, however it is impossible to examine the objectivity of the way we perceive everything around us. If we perceive something as normal, it does not mean that our judgments are actually correct.

Every single person sees the world in a different light. I guess that's what makes us interesting! On the other hand, our subjective perceptions make it difficult to confidently say if something is normal or abnormal, normality judgments are a product of our subjective perceptions. Even the meaning of the language that someone uses can be easily misinterpreted.

I think when it comes to judging whether someone or something is normal or abnormal, you need to be aware of your subjective bias.

Overall, judging what makes someone normal is difficult because judgments of normality are influenced by numerous factors. There is a thin line between normality and abnormality, and it is maintained mostly by societal norms, environment, familiarity, and subjective perceptions. 

Stating whether someone (or something) is normal or abnormal is not as easy as figuring out whether lemons are yellow or bright red. Try not to fall victim to societal norms, learn to celebrate individual thoughts and differences. Actively assess the limitations of your subjective thoughts, that will help you progress as an individual. 

"What does it mean to be normal?" well, I guess it's up to you to decide. 

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pinterest graphic image that says the thin line between normality and abnormality


  1. Gosh yeah this has really gotten me thinking! I suppose what's deemed as normal generally in human behaviour is based on years and years of studies so I guess that makes sense but there are an insane amount of things that are subjective and up to each individual person, really! It really does change the whole concept of "fitting in" too as really, we're all completely different!
    Alice Xx

    1. I love making people think! Thank you for popping by lovely :)

  2. This was really interesting! I'm a big believer in there being no such thing as 'normal'. At the end of the day, normal differs so much depending on areas, cultures and upbringing. There may be 'normal' for your surroundings, but that's totally different in the bigger picture. Great post x


  3. I will be glad when we all wake up one day and realize that normal is a made up word by someone who doesn't understand the concept of individuallity. This post was dead on to how jacked up society has everyone brain washed into believing that there is one kind of "normal" that you must conform to or you'll be a social reject. There's a huge world out there so someone please tell us how can we justify that word entriely. Yay science! I really appreciated your thoughtful and very insightful post. Thanks for sharing!
    Ps. sorry for my little rant. This post has me hyped. I really enjoyed it :)

    Kendra | Self-Care Overload