Tuesday, July 13, 2010

WEIRD people are not representative of all humans

The title above is actually a technical, scientific statement, describing the main finding of a new paper:

Henrich, Joseph, Stephen J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan 2010    The Weirdest People in the World? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33:61-135.

Here is part of the abstract:

Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world's top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans.  (See the article for the complete abstract, the full text, and a series of peer comments. Some of the latter also have clever and insightful titles).

This is almost a yawner for anthropologists, but evidently its big news to psychologists and other behavioral scientists. Although Henrich is in the Psych dept at Univ British Columbia, his PhD is in Anthropology (UCLA). His work is quite interesting; if you are not familiar with it, check it out.

1 comment:

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