The weirdest people

 

“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.

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.

– from Westerners vs. The World: We Are The WEIRD Ones.

This quote is from an article based on The Weirdest People in the World? (PDF) published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences earlier this year.

I haven’t read the paper yet, so but it looks interesting and it is an important topic. When we do behavioral research, we most often study WEIRD people – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. It is important to be aware of this, take it into consideration when we analyse the results, and make an effort to include other groups in our studies.

This is nothing new. It is mentioned in just about any research paper: we cannot easily generalize to other populations than the one we studied.

There are practical reasons for using WEIRD people. Most researchers are themselves WEIRD and they work in a WEIRD environment and culture, so WEIRD people are most easily accesible. And resources are limited, so in some cases, there is a choice between using WEIRD people or not do the study at all.

Finally, most behavioral and psychological research is done by and for WEIRD people. We can take just about any study published in psychological journals, ask who benefits from this research?, and find that WEIRD people benefit the most. It’s good to notice and be honest about this, not the least because it may help us question our priorities.

It is important to take this into account when we design studies and interpret the results. But all of this happens within a WEIRD worldview, so it may be even more important to become aware of and question the most basic WEIRD assumptions. These are, after all, the filters we use to decide what’s important to study, how to go about it, and how to understand and apply our findings.

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  • the weirdest people in the world
    • three aspects
      • cannot easily generalize to other populations, everybody knows
      • WEIRD people much more easily accessible, sometimes a choice between using WEIRD people or not doing the study at all
      • and… makes sense, b/c most research is done by and for western and educated people – not the rest of the people in the world (clear when ask: who benefits?)

Click to access Target_and_commentaries.pdf

http://www.nationalpost.com/Westerners+World+weird+ones/3427126/story.html

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It is fine to take this into account when we design studies and interpret the results. But all of this happens within a WEIRD worldview, so it is equally important to systematically and honestly identify and question our most basic assumptions. These are, after all, the filters we use to decide what’s important to study, which research questions to focus on, which methods we use, and how to interpret and understand our findings. It’s not easy: we will replace one set of assumptions with another, and we will always be blind to many of our most basic assumptions, but that’s no reason to not give it our best.

We have assumptions that come from our views of the universe and the history and habits of this universe, our views of the earth, our views of how humans relate to and fit into the larger whole, our views of what a good life means and how a good society looks, and so on. And many of the WEIRD views have one function: to protect the (temporarily) privileged social and ecological position of the WEIRDS. There is nothing wrong with that intention, but the question is, what are the effects of these assumptions, and are there other we could use that would benefit us more?

A partial selfishness is often unsatisfactory since it often comes from assumptions of separation. A more complete selfishness comes from recognizing inseparability and seeking solutions that benefits the whole and the parts in the short and long run.

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Initial draft…..

“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.

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.

– from Westerners vs. The World: We Are The WEIRD Ones.

This quote is from an article based on The Weirdest People in the World? (PDF) published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences earlier this year.

I haven’t read the paper yet, so but it looks interesting and it is an important topic. When we do behavioral research, we most often use WEIRD people – Western, Educated, Industralized, Rich and Democratic. It is important to be aware of this, take it into consideration when we analyse the results, and make an effort to include other groups in our studies. *

At the same time, there is nothing new here. It is a truism and mentioned in just about any research paper: we cannot easily generalize to other populations than the one we studied.

There are good reasons for using WEIRD people. They are more easily accessible to most researchers, and in some cases there is a choice between using WEIRD people or not do the study at all. Resources are, after all, limited.

And it makes sense. Most behavioral and psychological research is done by and for WEIRD people and not for the rest of the world, as becomes clear when we ask who benefits from this research? It’s good to notice this and be honest about it, not the least because this honesty may help us question our priorities when doing and funding research.

* This is a good start, but it may be even more important to systematically and honestly identify and question our most basic WEIRD assumptions. These are, after all, the source of what we see as important to study, which research questions we chose, which methods we use, and how we interpret and understand our findings.

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