Normal, natural, necessary, nice

It’s totally normal to spend time on blogging; all the academics are doing it these days!

Besides, it’s only natural to want to share the fruits of one’s labour with the broader community.

Not to mention that in this day and age, it’s becoming more and more necessary for academics to show that they can communicate outside of the ivory tower as well.

In fact, I just think it’s really nice to blog, that’s why I do it!


This blog isn’t actually about blogging (how meta) – I just wanted to test out a set of justifications for behaviour. I do Action X, because it’s normal, natural, necessary, and nice. These 4N’s seem to me to intuitively cover a whole bunch of the reasons why we do anything at all.

Last year, I was lucky enough to be part of a research project looking at how people justify a particular kind of behaviour – meat eating. The result was this paper: Rationalizing meat consumption: The 4Ns. I was part of the University of Melbourne contingent of this project of course, comprised of Dr Steve Loughnan (now at the University of Edinburgh), Mischel Luong, and Mirra Seigerman; but the lead authors are Dr Jared Piazza (now at the University of Lancaster), Dr Matt Ruby and Juliana Kulik.

The paper has received quite a bit of press elsewhere (here’s an interview with Mirra in the Australian news!), so although I am totally jumping on the bandwagon by sharing it here as well, I actually wanted to focus on something a little bit different from what the other sites do. I’ll provide a more “personal” perspective, I guess.

Because to me, being a part of this research project highlighted two really great aspects of working in academia. One thing that never ceases to impress me is the collaborative and international nature of this kind of work – thanks to the internet and globalisation, people who hadn’t even met each other in person could nonetheless communicate, discuss and share ideas, design a project and put it all together into a paper. Admittedly, there were “only” two Western countries involved in this paper, but the principle still stands (and, Matt has also taken a broader view in a different study, so don’t worry, the research is branching out).

The second thing that I really enjoy about research is the way that even if you are focusing on one particular type of behaviour – in this case, meat eating – sometimes the tool that you’re using to understand that behaviour – in this case, the 4Ns as rationalizations – can translate into other behaviours as well. I don’t know whether anyone has ever studied 4Ns and blogging; I suspect not. In fact, I don’t know if they have been applied to any area besides meat eating. But, now that the tool is in place in my toolkit (excuse trite metaphor), I find myself using it to explore other aspects of people’s behaviour as well.

“Why do you [verb]?”

“Because it’s normal? Natural? Necessary? Nice?”

And do any of those seem like good reasons to you?


I'm also interested in 4 N's in their negative form as justifications for why something is morally wrong. I think it very likely that thins are considered wrong when they are not normal, not natural, not necessary, and not nice. I think I may have to re-look at some data with this coding scheme in mind. Thanks, Hanne.

Yes that is an interesting idea! I guess the literature on the morality of disgust would be very relevant to things that are judged as morally wrong "because" they are "unnatural".


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