Psychology is WEIRD

When I read about psychological research, I tend to be skeptical about the results until they're replicated and reviewed a number of times. There have been too many theories that are debunked over time.

Dr. Robert Burtons points out one major flaw in his well-written book, A Skeptic's Guide to the MInd. He summarizes research by psychologist Joseph Heinrich that found "96 percent of behavioral science experiment subjects are from Western industrialized countires, even though theose countries have just 12 percent of the world's population, and that 68 percent of all subjects are Americans (p. 106)."

Heinrich and his colleagues discovered that psychological research subjects are from WEIRD countries: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic. Yet these studies make "universal claims about human nature," as if they are "independent of location, cultural factors, and any outside influences." As a result, "much of what we know or believe we know about human behavior has been extrapolated from the study of a small subsection of the world's population known to have different perceptions in such disparate domains as fairness, moral choice, even what we think about sharing (ibid, p. 107)."

This generalization applies to much of what consititutes morality in these times. Minority opinions are stated as if they are held by the majority of people and the results can be harmful to those who don't agree. Based on WEIRD research, psychologists may project their biases onto cultures and populations that are different from them.

So be careful to question what you hear and read. Remember that it's WEIRD.

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© 2014 by Dr. Mona R. Spiegel