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Horwitz_wk3 - k keyword 70 contexts.org normality by allan...

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k Sociologists typically study phenomena that stand out from the commonplace. They pay more attention to crime than conformity, homosexuality than heterosex- uality, blackness than whiteness, or holi- days than regular days. The conventional, usual, and expectable is usually taken for granted and more rarely studied. Despite its general neglect, normal- ity has an extraordinarily powerful effect on how people behave. Even those who want to be different use a conception of the normal as a guide. One dilemma in the study of normal- ity is that in most cases no formal rules or standards indicate what conditions are normal, unlike the study of disease, which relies on the presence or absence of symp- toms, or crime, which can be defined in relation to a body of laws. This lack of standards for defining normality has led many to look to statistical distributions, where “the normal” is whatever trait most people in a group display. Intelligence tests provide the model for this conception of normality. These tests measure intelligence by relating the number of correct answers given by one person to the number other people answer correctly. For example, the aver- age or normal IQ is set, by definition, at 100. Normal, then, is whatever the aver- age or typical behavior is. Conversely, subnormal people test at the bottom of the statistical curve while the supernor- mal rank at the top. The IQ score of any particular person is meaningful only in comparison to the scores of others who take the test. A striking characteristic of the sta- tistical conception of normality is that it isn’t a characteristic of individuals, but rather a quality of the distribution of a trait within a particular group. As with measures of intelligence, it’s impossible to know if any given individual is normal or not without also knowing about that same trait in other people. Indeed, when normality is viewed as an average, we often find no individual could possibly be normal. For example, a statistically normal woman in the United States has 2.09 children, which no individual could have. Statistical normality is a property of groups, not individuals. If statistical normality is a property of groups, then it will differ from group to group. In societies where the average person dies at age 65, someone who lives to 80 might be statistically abnor- mal. But in the contemporary United States, an 80-year lifetime falls within the range of a normal life span. Someone whose scores on a personali- ty test in Japan indicate they’re outgo- ing, gregarious, and friendly might be judged as shy, introverted, and hostile in the United States, despite giving exact- ly the same answers.
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