Monday, April 7, 2014

"Regression to the Mean"


I’m horrible at math. Perhaps, “horrible” is a euphemism for my purposes. Let me put it into perspective for you. While once at a mall kiosk selling macarons, I thought paying thirty dollars for twelve cookies somehow equated them to being a little more than two for a dollar, not slightly over two dollars each.

So what right have I in choosing a statistical theorem as a way of expressing an internal sentiment? None, really, but in a world where disciplines cross over ever so slightly, I might stand a chance.

While watching the season finale of Teen Wolf, Deaton, (a Yoda-like mentor) explains to a very sorrowful Scott (protagonist), about how the death of his beloved will come to pass. He explains the very first time both Scott and I have ever heard of the term, “regression to the mean.” Here’s the technical definition: “in statistics, regression toward (or to) the mean is the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement—and, paradoxically, if the extreme on its second measurement, it will tend to have been closer to the average on its first.” Or, more colloquially, “things even out and will return to a more neutral place.” I know my take on it doesn’t sound as fancy, but as my esteemed effendi Pooh says, “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like, ‘What about lunch?’”

Pooh likes simple things

Scott’s main argument against Deaton’s claim is that Beacon Hills (the fictional town the show takes place in) is supernatural and therefore, inapplicable to the theorem. And even though Scott is soon comforted by some more fortunate events that take place afterwards, I couldn’t help but think about how it applies to our world. I don’t find earth to be too different than Beacon Hills. While we are absent of werewolves, banshees, and other fictional characters of mythology or fabrication, we too are plagued with uncertainty, unexplainable phenomena, anxiety, terror, and rapid changes.

As someone who suffers from extreme bouts of anxiety, “regression to the mean” provides me with some comfort. While most of my day is spent feeling an impending cloud of doom over my head, I know that even in the event something unpleasant takes place (we’ll revert back to euphemisms) it will manage to find its way back to the norm. Lottery winners, trauma survivors, and every other status in between will find their way back to the commonality of their lives.


With graduation just around the river bend, (had to throw a Pocahontas reference in there, sorry!) my anxieties are stirring up a bit more than usual. As one of the first formal steps into the dreaded status of adulthood, it seems that the cruelties of the world will manage to find their way in faster. And while I’m still working on how to manage my anxiety and think more rationally, I’m comforted that in the event one of my conjured horrors takes place, it is mathematically proven to return, eventually. And that’s what we can all hope for. And to end off on a not-so-helpful note, during the last minutes of the “regression to the mean” episode, a huge problem is introduced. So much for evening out.

Until next week,
(a pondering) NH

Regression to the Mean definition
Teen Wolf info
Pooh image
Yoda gif

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