Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, And Democratic

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Or put more concisely, WEIRD. Here's why it's an important acronym:

Almost everything experimental psychologists believe about the human mind comes from studies of the Weird. But perhaps you've guessed the problem: from a global standpoint, Weird people may be really... what's the word? Yes: odd. As Henrich et al show, many phenomena we've assumed are universal probably aren't: we can only really say they're universal among Weird people, who make up 96% of subjects in behavioural science, or Americans, who make up 68%, and often only among US college students, who provide US researchers with a supply of guinea pigs. And the Weird, they say, "are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species".

This research has been bouncing around the blogs for a couple months now, no doubt due to the catchiness of the acronym. Here's Greg Downey's criticism of the paper (pdf) from July:

Although WEIRD is terribly catchy and quite manageable, it may not even focus us on the most important distinctions, nor may it reflect a good starting point for a truly trans-cultural psychology, carting our own self-conceptions and obsessions, surreptitiously, into the cross-cultural comparisons. ...

For example, when I brought one of my Brazilian subjects to an American university at which I previously taught, his characterization of the American students’ differences from young Brazilians with whom he had more contact focused on none of these traits (W. E. I. R. or D.). He was more struck by their large size (both height and BMI, to put it nicely), their frumpy androgynous clothing (anyone here not wearing a sweatshirt?), their materialism, their clumsiness and physical ineptitude, and their ethnic and personal homogeneity. If my Brazilian colleague were to characterize the oddness of the WEIRD, he wouldn’t focus on the traits Henrich and colleagues have chosen in their designation.

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