YANSS 152 – How we create a new normal by rationalizing unwanted change

When faced with an inescapable and unwanted situation, we often rationalize our predicament so as to make it seem less awful and more bearable, but what if that situation is a new law or a new administration?

New research from psychologist Kristin Laurin suggests that groups, nations, and cultures sometimes rationalize the new normal in much the same way, altering public opinion on a large scale.

As a coping mechanism, the brain is very good at turning lemons into lemonade. Divorce, losing a job, a terrible illness — to keep us sane and moving forward, we often rationalize terrible situations that drastically alter our lives once we accept those situations are 100 percent happening and inescapable. We often do so in a way that makes those events seem like the best thing that ever happened to us. It’s a clever trick, a gift really, one that allows us to rebuild our lives and develop new identities instead of the alternative, spiraling down into depression and stasis. By telling ourselves a good story, the brain keeps us from taking up extended residence in our bedrooms with the covers over our heads.

While studying this kind of rationalization, Laurin wondered if it scaled up to groups, cultures, and nations. She noticed that when people greatly resist a change to the status quo — the election of president many people did not want, the passing of new legislation that many people resisted, the creation of new policies that people are sure will cause harm — once the change actually happens, the panic and resistance often seems to drastically diminish within a few weeks.

Laurin wondered if this too was a form of rationalization, one that people perform without realizing it, one that can have a big impact on how we see ourselves as a people, so she set out to create a series of experiments to answer those questions. In the episode, you will hear all about those experiments, what she discovered, and what advice she has for people resisting and dealing with changes to the status quo.

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Photo Credit: K.C. Green’s Gunshow comic #648: “The Pills Are Working”