Researchers (Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan) surveyed the literature in the field of behavioral science. The authors point out that, based on the population samples in the studies they surveyed, a western undergraduate college student is 4,000 times more likely to be a participant in a behavioral sciences study than anyone other person on the planet. They created an acronym to describe this population: Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD), which, according to the survey, actually does describe the population samples upon which most of the world’s investigations into human behaviors are based.
The issue is that -according to the authors- WEIRDs are potentially different from the rest of the world, which makes them a bad sample; The WEIRDer you are, the more you perceive a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships, and the more you use an analytical thinking style, focusing on categories and laws, rather than a holistic style, focusing on patterns and contexts.
“Our findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Overall, these empirical patterns suggest 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.”
If WEIRD people are indeed weird, the authors hypothesize that growing up in an industrial-era environment with plenty of 90-degree lines and carpentered edges led to WEIRD people’s sense of vision being susceptible to the deception.
“We live in this world with police and institutions and pre-packaged food, TV, the Internet, watches and clocks and calendars. Our heads are loaded with all this information for navigating those environments. So we should expect our brains to be distorted,” Dr. Henrich says.
Some psychologists doubt whether privileged Westerners actually are the odd people out. They note a human tendency, throughout history and across cultures, to regard one’s own group as unique, and they doubt whether a more wide subject pool will sustain the idea that WEIRD people are finally “weird”.