Citations (29)



The Weirdest People in the World?

Joe Henrich

University of British Columbia; Harvard University - Department of Human Evolutionary Biology

Steven J. Heine

University of British Columbia (UBC)

Ara Norenzayan

University of British Columbia (UBC)

May 7, 2010

RatSWD Working Paper No. 139

Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers - often implicitly - assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species - frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior - hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re‐organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 69

Keywords: external validity, population variability, experiments, cross‐cultural research, culture, human universals, generalizability, evolutionary psychology, cultural psychology, behavioral economics

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Date posted: May 11, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Henrich, Joe and Heine, Steven J. and Norenzayan, Ara, The Weirdest People in the World? (May 7, 2010). RatSWD Working Paper No. 139. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1601785 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1601785

Contact Information

Joseph Henrich
University of British Columbia ( email )
2053 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2
Harvard University - Department of Human Evolutionary Biology ( email )
11 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Steven J. Heine (Contact Author)
University of British Columbia (UBC) ( email )
2329 West Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia BC V6T 1Z4
Ara Norenzayan
University of British Columbia (UBC) ( email )
2329 West Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia BC V6T 1Z4
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