I’ve been wondering if it would be remotely possible to measure the amount of eccentricity in a culture. In particular, I’m wondering about the historical trend in number of people who are “characters” – ie the distinctly usual. Anecdotally, I’ve been told that 60 years ago there were more people who marched to the beat of a different drum, and it isn’t hard to imagine a story about the homogenising influence of modern and commercial culture. It also isn’t hard to imagine that all sorts of selection biases and preconceptions are at work, so that there really hasn’t been any change in this over recent history. So – could it be measured?

I was doing some research the other day, on what questions people ask about psychology. This tends to overlap, but not by much, with the questions that we as professional psychology researchers invesitgate. If you’re interested you can look for yourself:

Very common, it seems, is the question “Am I normal?” or “is this normal?”. Did people always ask this question, or is it particularly modern? If you do a google ngram search for the words “strange” and “normal” you get an interesting pattern:

More normal (in red), and less strange (in blue) over the last two centuries. They even appear inversely related at points – notice the damping of ‘strangeness’ around WWI and WWII and a surge in ‘normality’.