American Psychology

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The Lonely West

(How we tricked ourselves into thinking our brains are the center of the universe.)

The social sciences reveal evolved psychological traits common to all humans. But what if the west is collectively UNcommon?

From 2003-2007, 93% of studies in the top six psychological journals used only Westerners as test subjects.

  • 68% of subjects were from the US
  • An American is 300 times more likely to be in one of these studies than a non-American.

Furthermore,

  • This means nearly 7/10 of studies were based on samples from only 12% of the world’s population.

(Well in the land of the scientists, do as the scientists, right?)

Americans have the tendency to be equitable to strangers and punish those who aren’t.

But what if Americans are WEIRD?

Americans are educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic compared to the rest of the world. This alters our cultural preferences and even the basic ways in which we perceive reality.

How is America Weird?

  • The Mueller-Lyer Illusion involves believing one line is longer than the other.
  • Americans grow up in box-shaped rooms surrounding by the clean lines of manufactured goods.
  • This teaches children to see converging lines as three dimensional from a young age.
  • Americans regularly fall for the Mueller Lyer Illusion.
  • San foragers of the Kalahari grow up following the organic shapes of expansive plains and deserts.
  • These environmental influences keep the San foragers from falling for the illusion.

The more one thinks about the relatively small number of people and time that have been spent in modern, industrialized, urbanized, and democratic environments, the more WEIRD psychological samples of westerners become.

“Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.” –Ethan Watters

Citations:

http://www.psmag.com/magazines/pacific-standard-cover-story/joe-henrich-weird-ultimatum-gameshaking-up-psychology-economics-53135/

http://www.rit.edu/cla/gssp400/muller/muller.html

http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/pdfs/Weird_People_BBS_final02.pdf

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