Psychologists have long run experiments on college students to draw conclusions about the behavior of the general population. While students are a convenient sample, the criticism is that they may not be representative. Now comes evidence that what we think we know about behavior of people is biased because it is almost entirely based on the study of Westerners.
The Financial Post:
Western mind differs in fundamental ways from the rest of humanity, according to Dr. Henrich. He and two other UBC researchers authored a paper shaking up the fields of psychology, cognitive science and behavioural economics by questioning whether we can know anything about humanity in general if we only study a “truly unusual group of people” — the privileged products of Western industrial societies, who just happen to make up the vast majority of behavioural science test subjects.
The article, titled “The weirdest people in the world?”, appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family. The UBC trio have come to the controversial conclusion that, say, the Machiguenga are not psychological outliers among humanity. We are.
“If you’re a Westerner, your intuitions about human psychology are probably wrong or at least there’s good reason to believe they’re wrong,” Dr. Henrich says.
Addendum. The NYTtoday has an article on the study.
After analyzing reams of data from earlier studies, the UBC team found that WEIRD people reacted differently from others in experiment after experiment involving measures of fairness, anti-social punishment and co-operation, as well as visual illusions and questions of individualism and conformity.