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The Bell Curve in Psychological Research and Practice: Myth or Reality?

Abstract

The expression “the bell curve” designs both a kind of statistical distribution and the title of a famous and controversial book by Herrnstein and Murray. The first is so attractive that the second refers to it to give more credibility to its questionable theories on intelligence. The point is that, during the 20th century, the bell curve has assumed a more and more important role in psychological research and practice and have become both a reality and a myth. In the first case (reality) we can assist to appropriate applications of a real useful statistical concept. In the second (myth) we can have two kinds of attitudes: one attitude is typical of those researchers who search for normality in all their data and variables, just as Parsifal used to search for the Holy Graal (we call this “the Parsifal attitude”); the other is typical of those researchers who give normality for granted and act as if it were a Platonic Idea (we call this “the Plato attitude”). The article discusses the role of the normal distribution in psychological research and practice and shows how it can be dangerous to treat the bell curve as a God or an Idol.

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Correspondence to Riccardo Sartori.

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Sartori, R. The Bell Curve in Psychological Research and Practice: Myth or Reality?. Qual Quant 40, 407–418 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-005-6104-0

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Keywords

  • normal distribution
  • psychological measurement and testing
  • intelligence and IQ scores