Psychological Research Conducted in WEIRD Nations May Not Apply to Global Populations

PhysOrg.com, June 30, 2010

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.

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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 compared to those from non-WEIRD societies.

According to the study, significant psychological and behavioral differences also exist between population groups within WEIRD nations. For example, U.S. undergraduate students are typically more analytic and choosy and less conforming than U.S. adults without college educations.

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More information: View the study, “The weirdest people in the world?,” and comprehensive commentary by the authors and colleagues in the research community at: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayIssue?jid=BBS&volumeId=33&issueId=2-3&iid=7825832

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