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

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The word “normal” is often used as a synonym for "typical," "expected," or even "correct." By that logic, most people should fit the description of normal. But time and time again, so-called normal descriptions of our bodies, minds, and perceptions have turned out to match almost no one. So what does normal actually mean— and should we be relying on it so much? Yana Buhrer Tavanier investigates.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Yana Buhrer Tavanier
  • Director Eoin Duffy
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen
  • Animator Eoin Duffy, Jamie Hogan
  • Composer Adam Alexander, Bamm Bamm Wolfgang
  • Sound Designer Adam Alexander, Bamm Bamm Wolfgang
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Content Associate Abdallah Ewis
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Learn how the idea of a ‘normal’ person got invented – in this piece by Todd Rose, adapted from his groundbreaking book The End of Average To better understand the issue with ‘normal’ in connection to mental health, see Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness by Christopher Lane or The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry by Jon Ronson, more specifically the chapter about the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.To see how problematic IQ testing is, watch these TED-Ed videos: Should we get rid of standardized testing? and The dark history of IQ tests. To learn more about Eugenics, Norma and Normman, and the concept of ‘the normal body’ – including in the contexts of disability, sexuality and gender identity – a good place to start is Normality: A Critical Genealogy by Elizabeth Stephens & Peter Cryle. On the cultural assumptions governing our conception of people with disabilities, see Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body by Lennard J. Davis.  To learn more how the concept of ‘normal’ has been weaponized against people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, Roma and other groups in Nazi Gemany, see this material by UK’s Center for Holocaust Education. Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. То learn more about why this is problematic, check out The weirdest people in the world by Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan. Interested in the history of the word normal? See this article on Merriam Webster: What exactly is “Normal”?.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Yana Buhrer Tavanier
  • Director Eoin Duffy
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen
  • Animator Eoin Duffy, Jamie Hogan
  • Composer Adam Alexander, Bamm Bamm Wolfgang
  • Sound Designer Adam Alexander, Bamm Bamm Wolfgang
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Content Associate Abdallah Ewis

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