“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.
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.