The concept of “normality” is used frequently and indiscriminately in our society. On a multitude of occasions we hear that certain things or certain behaviors are or are not normal. However, when we want to define the concept of normality, the question becomes complicated. It is difficult to outline what is normal and what is pathological, strange or bizarre.
A really dangerous aspect of the concept of normality are the connotations associated with it since it is used on a multitude of occasions as a measure of what is correct or not. When we attribute an abnormal to a person, conduct or thing, it is usually followed by negative bias. This, to some extent, is due to an erroneous conception of normality, ignorance of the depth of the term; for this reason it is important to understand what “normal” means.
An easy way to approach this term is the opposite of normal, in other words the pathological. Understanding those processes and those that are not normal will help us define them. For this reason, the first definition we will see and is that of pathological.
Definition of pathological or abnormal
Defining what is pathological has always been complicated for psychology, due to the complexity of the criteria to be defined. A debate with which psychology is still struggling concerns what should be considered susceptible to diagnosis or therapy; let’s talk about the question of which pathological behaviors should be treated and which not, which criterion should be followed?
When it comes to defining the pathological or the abnormal, in psychology it is customary to resort to four distinct criteria. An important aspect is that there is no need to verify all the criteria for considering something normal. We must think of 4 dimensions to be assessed in a qualitatively distinct way.
The 4 criteria are:
- The statistical criterion. It is based on the idea that the concept of normality corresponds to what is most likely. It is a mathematical criterion based on data: the most repeated behaviors will be normal, while those that occur as soon as they are pathological or abnormal. This criterion is particularly important when you want to define an objective method to measure normality, but it loses effectiveness when there is a wide variability; there is also the problem of defining the percentage threshold which implies the passage from abnormal to normal.
- The biological criterion. Natural biological processes and laws are taken into account to determine normality. Those behaviors that follow biological normality are not considered pathological. The problem with this criterion is that biological laws are scientific models that can be incomplete and erroneous; a new datum can therefore be interpreted as a pathology rather than as a part associated with the normal process.
- The social criterion. It is based on the idea that the concept of normality corresponds to what society accepts as fair. The company, through intersubjectivity and social knowledge, establishes the characteristics with which normality must comply. We can attribute a strong historical and cultural trait to this concept; depending on the time and culture, the concept will vary.
- The subjective criterion. According to this criterion, the pathological behaviors will be those that see the subjects who carry out the conducts as such. This criterion is very lacking on a multitude of occasions, given that it shows great subjectivity and is highly distorted due to the fact that we tend to consider all our conduct as normal.
The criteria shown are very useful for diagnosing and treating clinical psychology disorders. However, we can realize that we need little to really deepen the concept of normality. However, they are useful for understanding and getting closer to the notion we have of what is strange or abnormal.
The concept of normality according to socio-constructivism
Socio-constructivism can help us understand the concept of normality. From this prism we learn that any knowledge is built through the interaction of the individual with society and its environment. Normality would be another idea built within the framework of this interaction.
This means that what is normal cannot be treated by a de-contextualized objectivity from social intersubjectivity. In other words, we cannot speak of normality in general terms, but within a specific company. The same applies to the criterion used to define the pathological, since both fall into the social conceptualization of strange or abnormal. The point of view that we describe brings us an interesting and curious vision of the normal and can imply one or the other ethical-moral debate.
Everything we see as strange and abnormal has no reason to be associated with a problematic or negative disposition of the individual who carries out this conduct. In reality, society excludes conduct, ideas or characteristics, popping them up as strange or abnormal. This explains, for example, the great variability of conduct, acts and feelings placed in the drawer of normalcy and abnormality throughout history. For example, centuries ago it was normal and legitimate to kill a person if he had hurt our pride, today we consider it absurd and immoral.
We could therefore say that normality is a social construct that incorporates the behaviors, ideas and characteristics that are appropriate for life in society. It is a form of self-regulation available to society. For this reason, psychology recognizes paradigms about disorders and disabilities based on functional diversity; we must think of abnormality as a concept produced by society and not as a characteristic of the individual.