Jumat, 02 Juli 2010

Studying Human Behavior

What drives human behavior? In a provocative paper published online in Behavioral and Brain Sciences last week, it is argued that much of what we believe we know about human behavior is skewed by the fact that most psychological studies are performed on WIERDs – subjects from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic societies. Indeed, most human subjects used in psychological studies are from the United States, according to an article published several years ago in American Psychologist by Jeffrey Arnett. And most of the subjects are psychology undergraduate students – hardly representative of the world’s cultures as a whole.

How might this affect the results? Take for example, perception of self. Textbooks generally describe people has having a tendency to rate their own abilities as above average and to be motivated to maintain a positive image of themselves. But this may not necessarily be true for non-WEIRD cultures, who may place more emphasis on family relationships and less on personal choice or ability.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with studying WEIRDs, of course, as long as it is understood that the conclusions may not generalize to all cultures.

Reference: Henrich, Joseph et al. The Weirdest People in the World? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 pp. 61-83.

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