The weirdest people in the world: The inductive challenge for psychology

Steven J. Heine, PhD, Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­ogy, Depart­ment of Psy­chol­ogy, Uni­ver­sity of British Colum­bia   Web­site  |  Pub­li­ca­tions  |  Abstract & Bio

Abstract: 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? I will briefly review the com­par­a­tive data­base from across the behav­ioral sci­ences and con­clude 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. I will dis­cuss the impli­ca­tions of a sci­ence based on a WEIRD data­base, and will sug­gest some strate­gies that our field can take to allow us to be more con­fi­dent in our abil­ity to gen­er­al­ize across samples.

Bio: Steven J. Heine is Pro­fes­sor of Social and Cul­tural psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of British Colum­bia. After receiv­ing his PhD from the Uni­ver­sity of British Colum­bia in 1996, he had vis­it­ing posi­tions at Kyoto Uni­ver­sity and Tokyo Uni­ver­sity, and was on the fac­ulty at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. His research tar­gets ques­tions regard­ing genetic essen­tial­ism, mean­ing main­te­nance, and iden­ti­fy­ing what is uni­ver­sal and what is culturally-variable in a vari­ety of psy­cho­log­i­cal processes – most par­tic­u­larly self-enhancing moti­va­tions. He is the recip­i­ent of the Dis­tin­guished Sci­en­tist Early Career Award for Social Psy­chol­ogy from the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion and the Career Tra­jec­tory Award from the Soci­ety of Exper­i­men­tal Social Psy­chol­ogy.  He has pub­lished more than 60 arti­cles in such out­lets as Behav­ioral and Brain Sci­ences, Psy­cho­log­i­cal Review, and Sci­ence, and has writ­ten a text­book enti­tled Cul­tural Psychology.