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What Is Normal?

Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain Media

Science, Arts, Social Sciences, Performing Arts

4.639.3K Ratings

🗓️ 8 April 2024

⏱️ 51 minutes

🧾️ Download transcript


Anthropologist Tom Pearson was devastated after his daughter Michaela was diagnosed with Down syndrome. When he began to examine that emotional response, he found himself wrestling with questions that have roiled his field for decades. Early anthropologists would often compare people of different backgrounds and abilities, asking questions like: How is one group different from another? Which one is stronger or smarter? And how do we understand people who don’t fit our expectations? This week, we talk with Pearson about his family’s story, and the evolution of our thinking on disability and difference.

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This is Hidden Brain. I'm Shankar Vedantam. In the middle of the 20th century, the influential


psycho analyst Eric Ericsson came up with a set of theories about human development.


In the earliest stage of life he said babies need to gain a


sense of trust in their caregivers. To bring this about the psycho analyst recommended


that parents shower their children with affection and quickly respond to signals of distress.


These concepts were to become influential in the field later known as developmental psychology. In 1944, Eric Erickson's ideas were put to


the test in his own life. His wife Joan Erickson gave birth to their fourth child, Neil. The labor proved difficult


and Joan was sedated after the birth. Meanwhile, doctors pulled Eric aside to give him some bad news about his newborn son.


The doctor said that baby Neil suffered from what they called known as Down syndrome.


Neel was going to be developmentally challenged


and would likely die within a short period of time.


Rather than burden the parents with the care of such a difficult baby,


the doctors recommended that Neil be immediately sent away to an institution.


Tormented by the decision before him, Erickson did what a lot of us might do in his


situation. He phoned a friend.


But in his case, the friend happened to be one of the most famous anthropologists of all time.


A scholar who had challenged the idea that our biology


makes us who we are.


Very much like Eric Ericsson himself, Margaret Mead believed in the power of nature. She believed that we are less


the product of our cells and genetic codes and more the creation of our families, cultures,


and societies.


This week on Hidden Brain, the surprising advice Margaret Mead gave Eric Ericsson and how we draw distinctions between differences and deficiencies. You're going to. From its inception, the field of anthropology had a problem. Western Scholars in the 19th century,


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