Media Production Project
There has been a lot of discussion recently, especially in light of the recent United States election, about normalization and the definition of what is normal. When most people think of normal, they think of what is typical or what is average, but what if that’s not really how people perceive what is normal?
In a recent study, Adam Bear and Joshua Knobe were able to show that what people see as normal may actually be a combination of what is typical and what is ideal. This study begins by introducing normality and raising the question: how is it that people come to regard certain things as normal and others as abnormal? They believe that normality is more complicated than it may first appear, and that people’s judgements on normality are a middle ground between what they consider to be the actual statistical average, and what they consider to be morally ideal. The study identifies two possible hypotheses: The first says that normality is influenced by both the ideal and the average, and the second states that normality is not just influenced by both, but falls directly in between them.
To better understand the implications, one can consider the number of hours that a person watches TV per day. Most participants said they thought that about 4 hours per day was the average for an average American. Interestingly, when asked what they thought the normal number of hours per day were, the participants did not give the same value as they did to the first question. Here they said that about 3 hours per day were normal for the average American. Finally when they were asked what was ideal, they responded with 2.5. This suggests that people see what is normal as different from what they see as typical or average. Furthermore, they see normal as different in the direction of what they see as morally ideal, or the way they think it should be.
To further test this idea, three tests were performed. The first test was to examine how people’s intuitions about average and ideal amounts relate to what they think are normal amounts. This study includes the example above discussing the hours of television watched per day, where Bear and Knobe set a specific list of domains such as behaviors and activities and asked participants what they saw as average amounts of that behavior or activity. A second group was asked what they thought were ideal amounts of the same thing, and a third group was asked what they saw as the normal amount of that thing. This was done with 20 different domains.
A second test was then done where participants were asked where they thought the average, ideal, and normal amounts fell on a graded scale (larger/smaller). Finally, the third study was done in a similar fashion, and participants were given a random list of examples from a category where they were asked: to what extent they believed this thing to be either an average, good, ideal, prototypical, or paradigmatic example of that thing. Good, prototypical, and paradigmatic here are all representations of normal. In all three studies involving different categories, Bear and Knobe found that the participants’ notions of what was normal fell in between what they thought was average and what they thought was ideal.
What if all the categories and objects within these categories are things that the participants were familiar with, then they would already have developed a notion of what they believe to be normal. If this were in fact the case, it might be true that when given objects they were not familiar with, normal might not fall between average and ideal as it has thus far.To determine how people learn what is normal, Bear and Knobe did two studies each involving a fictional hunting tool they invented called a stagnar. In the first study, they found that 73% of participants said the normal lengths were in between the ideal and the average, which suggests it was not by chance. The final study was done similarly where the participants were to rate the stagnars on degree of largeness or smallness. Again the data showed that the normal stagnar was in between the ideal and the average. This showed that a person’s sense of normal is innately learned as being in between average and ideal, a finding with profound implications in society today. This suggests that it is possible to predict what people will view as normal, and also sheds some light on normalization. If the average amount of racist things said increases, for example, people may begin to think that saying racist things is more normal.
Writing this summary posed more challenges than I initially expected it to for multiple reasons. The first reason was that I thought that my summary should include more of the procedures of how the study was conducted, because, as a reader of the original article, I was wondering about it the most while reading. This ended up being a problem because it was difficult to remain within the word limit while also trying to be explicit enough to answer all the questions that I had while I was reading the pop culture article. The second big challenge I had was to try and write a well-structured and coherent article that I thought was an improvement of the original. I commented in my evaluation of the pop culture article that the author did a very good job with his use of language and his summarization skills, while still explaining in enough detail for the reader to understand the study. This made it difficult for me to improve upon the article in terms of language and summarization skill, so I focused mostly on trying to include more of the procedural detail that seemed like it shouldn’t be left out. Luckily for my word limit the original article was not only a summary of the research paper, but also talked about Trump and normalization in a social context. This leads me to the differences between my summary and the original.
My summary cut out some of the social implications and social examples in order to accommodate the additional procedural information. I still included some possible social implications of the study, as I thought the application was equally as important as being able to understand the study. It seems that my summary is not as well written as the original which can mostly be attributed to the fact that the original was written by the author of the original research study, and the fact that he is just a better writer than I am. I do not profess to be a prodigious writer, nor even notable, however I was appreciative of the struggles that journalists face when attempting to get articles published as my sister is a rather talented writer who publishes articles every once in a while. Upon writing this article I did not gain more or less appreciation for what journalists go through, but gained context with which to appreciate their efforts. It is very difficult to write over something and have to remove yourself from your writing enough to be able to relay studies objectively and in a coherent and logical way. In academia, with either scientific papers or English analysis papers, one can simply write their paper up to their own potential and for the most part not have to worry if the general populous will be able to understand the material. Journalists have to be the link between the world of academia and the general population who may not have enough education to understand the study the way it was initially presented. Further it is the job of the journalist to get the information out to the public, and therefore requires that they fully understand the study in order to accurately represent the findings.
The links to the original research article and the pop culture article are shown below.