“I’m Normal” and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

This article – subtitled “Why we are misled by statistics” – has been written by Dr. Steven C. Hayes and published in Psychology Today. It begins:

“Our minds think in terms of categories and concepts. It comes easy to us. It’s how we make sense of the world and our role within it. Unfortunately, however, this “common sense” approach blocks out alternative ways of thinking.

In the last century, we’ve been feeding our minds a steady diet of concepts based on a core mistake, a statistical error, that physicists have known for about 90 years, but behavioral science is oblivious. My field, psychology, has been one of the worst.

We Cannot Characterize Humans Via What Is ‘Normal’

All of them are massively supported by data, thousands upon thousands of scientific studies. Almost all are burdened by a shared analytic error: the “common sense” but mostly false idea that we can characterize humans based on what is usual, typical, average, or normal.

Data shows that the word ‘normal’ was almost never used until after the Civil War, and was not used as it is now until well into the 1900s. The same is true for the word ‘average.’

And we’ve long known that something is wrong with these concepts. Since 1931 when the ergodic theorem was first proven, physicists have known that group averages (e.g., how a volume of gas molecules normally behave) apply to individuals (e.g., how individual gas molecules normally behave) only in a few very rare circumstances. None of those apply to people …”

You can read more from here.

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