Why was abnormal ‘then’ , normal ‘now’?

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When people talk about “normalising” something in 2024, it’s often with a positive slant. On social media and off, I’ve seen calls to normalise everything from postpartum bodies to having mental health conversations at work. The idea, of course, is to break down taboos that can be unhelpful, even dangerous.

But there’s another kind of normalisation, and it’s one that many people are far less aware of. It is less conscious, more pernicious – and can be harmful. This is the normalisation of trends, situations and events that really shouldn’t be “normal” at all. You also might hear it referred to as “desensitisation”, or “habituation”.

Think of the wars in Ukraine and Israel-Gaza. The shocking events at the start of these conflicts were new and unexpected, elements which psychologists know draws the mind’s attention. As time has passed, media coverage still happens, but these events are now less likely to lead the news in countries like the US, nor arise quite as often in the cultural conversation. Sadly, when a war has lasted months or years, research suggests that an extra week of fighting does not have the impact it did on day one.

This desensitisation also applies day-to-day life. Inner-city youth who grow up with violence are more likely to wind up thinking violence is normal, for example, while people expressed more anxiety about Covid-19 when the death toll was low than when it climbed into the hundreds of thousands. One particularly intriguing study, meanwhile, shows that people living in countries that are more exposed to the negative impacts of climate change actually see climate change as being lower-risk.

Other research shows that you can even become habituated to your own negative behaviour: when volunteers lied repeatedly in order to get more money, their lies became bigger and bigger over the course of the experiment – and the parts of their brain associated with emotions activated less and less. The takeaway, the researchers concluded, was that the more we do something, even something we know is wrong, the less uncomfortable with it we become.

Be exposed to anything enough, in other words, and that thing winds up being normalised. Even if it’s bad.

Read more at BBC.com

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Chuck comes from a lineage of journalism. He has written for some of the webs most popular news sites. He enjoys spending time outdoors, bull riding, and collecting old vinyl records. Roll Tide!