A new University of British Columbia study says that an overreliance on research subjects from the U.S. and other Western nations can produce false claims about human psychology and behavior because their psychological tendencies are highly unusual compared to the global population.
According to the study, the majority of psychological research is conducted on subjects from Western nations, primarily university students. Between 2003 and 2007, 96 per cent of psychological samples came from countries with only 12 per cent of the world's populations. The U.S. alone provided nearly 70 per cent of these subjects.
However, the study finds significant psychological and behavioral differences between what the researchers call Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies and their non-WEIRD counterparts across a spectrum of key areas, including visual perception, fairness, spatial and moral reasoning, memory and conformity.
The findings, published in Nature tomorrow and Behavioral Sciences this week, raise questions about the practice of drawing universal claims about human psychology and behavior based on research samples from WEIRD societies.
"The foundations of human psychology and behavior have been built almost exclusively on research conducted on subjects from WEIRD societies," says UBC Psychology and Economics Prof. Joe Henrich, who led the study with UBC co-authors Prof. Steven Heine and Prof. Ara Norenzayan. "While students from Western nations are a convenient, low-cost data pool, our findings suggest that they are also among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans."
The study, which reviews the comparative database of research from across the behavioural sciences, finds that subjects from WEIRD societies are more individualistic, analytic, concerned with fairness, existentially anxious and less conforming and attentive to context
|Contact: Basil Waugh|
University of British Columbia