“I Am Normal” And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

“I Am Normal” And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

In a recent study (Fried & Nesse, 2015) of 3,703 people diagnosed with MDD, some people had symptom clusters that were so unusual, they applied to only 5 or fewer participants out of the entire sample. That’s about a tenth of a percent … or less. How many do you suppose were that unique? 1%? 5%? 10%? 

Read The Fundamental Differences between Sadness and Depression

More than half. Overall, there were 1,030 different symptom patterns found.

So, what is depression normally like? You can’t answer that question without lying – there is no “normal” depressive disorder. It is an abstraction from a collection of features gathered at the group level – when it is applied to individuals it falls prey to the ergodic error and falls apart. 

One more. Perhaps the most controversial of all.

How about IQ?

Surely there is a normal IQ, right? Heck, you even know the number. It’s 100!

No. That “normally distributed scale score” we call IQ is forced on the actual test scores afterward. The tests are picked to relate one to the other and they still have a hard time doing so. And this idea that there is a fixed quality inside IQ that cannot change and supposedly is genetic? That idea is crumbling before our eyes. 

A recent meta-analysis by Guerin, Wade, and Mano, 2021 found that inductive or relational reasoning training moves IQ significantly, even the part that is supposed to be fixed and genetic. A good example is the Strengthening Mental Abilities with Relational Training (“SMART”) program, based on Relational Frame Theory (RFT), a theory of language and cognition I developed in the 1980s. SMART trains relational skills with tasks like “WUG is the same as JEZ, and JEZ is the opposite of SIG … is WUG the same as SIG?”. 

We know that only humans show these kinds of relational skills and if children do not acquire them, they are hobbled for life, with poor intellectual and verbal skills. If you train them, your IQ score increases. There are now multiple randomized trials of RFT-based IQ training, including SMART. All show clear gains and in areas of IQ that are never supposed to move.

The group-level “normal distribution” of IQ is simply not a cage for individuals to live inside

We carry within us categories and concepts that make every challenge we face as human beings harder. Call it the “lie of averages.” 

Workers are hired because they are “smart extroverts”. Children are sent to remedial programs because they missed “developmental milestones”. People walk through life with “mental disorders” attached to them like tattoos. 

They’re all based on the lie of average. 

What we need are concepts of behavior that fit the individual life trajectories of human beings, and that then can be gathered into a general understanding. We can get there … but we won’t until we first see that we’ve been had.


  • Fried, E. I., & Nesse, R. M. (2015). Depression is not a consistent syndrome: an investigation of unique symptom patterns in the STAR* D study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 172, 96-102.
  • Guerin, J. M., Wade, S. L., & Mano, Q. R. (2021). Does reasoning training improve fluid reasoning and academic achievement for children and adolescents? A systematic review. Trends in Neuroscience and Education. doi: 10.1016/j.tine.2021.100153 

Written by:Steve C. Hayes
Originally appeared on:Stevenchayes.com
Republished with permission
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“I Am Normal” And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves
I Am Normal Pin
“I Am Normal” And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves
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