WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

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greenrd
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Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 10:17 pm

WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

Post by greenrd » Wed May 10, 2017 10:26 pm

One of the things I am really interested in right now is "facts" that psychologists previously took to be true, but are actually only true in a limited context. I know there are plenty of psychological experiments being uncovered that don't seem to replicate, which is concerning in itself, but what I find more interesting is results that do replicate - within one culture or demographic group - but not worldwide. In some cases they only work in WEIRD countries (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic - that's an actual acronym used in this discourse, not something I just invented).

But there are other possibilities, too. I know that some psychologists rely heavily on psychology students to take their studies. Apart from average age, there might be other things that make psychology students not exactly representative of the general population... such as knowledge of the theories being tested.

One example of such a non-universal fact is the so-called "fundamental attribution error" - people's tendency to blame other people's missteps on their inherent personality defects, but excusing their own by making reference to extenuating circumstances. With a name like that, you might suspect that it was a universal irrational tendency of humankind. Apparently, not so! People in "collectivist" societies allegedly pay more attention to context, and are more likely to say that a person who is angry might be merely having a bad day.

Another example is Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which seem intuitive and obvious to me, but have been criticised as culturally-specific, and also as age-specific.

A third example is the tendency of a large majority of people to rate themselves as above-average in desirable qualities such as intelligence or health, i.e. collective delusion... again, this tendency is much diminished or even perhaps absent in some cultures.

So this raises, like, so many questions. Among them:
  • How did it take the field of psychology so long to figure this kind of stuff out? It seems like it should be fairly obvious, if perhaps politically-incorrect these days for someone outside a non-WEIRD culture to point out, that cultures differ in various important ways. Why did no-one think of going to another country and trying to replicate? Expense? Is it really justifiable to be that penny-pinching? Or was there a massive bias against replications in psychology?
  • Never mind Western psychologists going to other countries and replicating - aren't there like, actual psychologists in non-WEIRD countries, that could have done this kind of replication a long time ago and published on it? Again, why did this take so long?
  • Why does Wikipedia mention not one, not two, but three subfields of psychology that sound like they might cover this sort of thing - cultural psychology, cross-cultural psychology and international psychology? Why so many? What's the difference between them? (It's not super-clear to me from reading their Wikipedia articles.)
  • What other "universal" results exist that aren't actually universal? And by all means, let's broaden that question to other social science fields - such as behavioural economics.
  • Are any of these cross-cultural differences ones that those of us in WEIRD cultures could learn something from, or benefit by adopting?
I think with regards to psychology, we have to consider the possibility that the bulk of psychology is so terribly flawed, for the reasons I've touched on in this post, that it doesn't really constitute proper science yet - more of a proto-science, maybe.

Does anyone have any light to shed on any of these questions?

chel_of_the_sea
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Re: WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

Post by chel_of_the_sea » Thu May 11, 2017 1:38 am

(speculatively)
Why did no-one think of going to another country and trying to replicate? Expense? Is it really justifiable to be that penny-pinching?
I doubt anyone thought about it in those terms, right? It's just self-interest at work: elders within departments that work within those paradigms have no interest in disrupting them, and junior members might be nervous about asking for extra resources.
Never mind Western psychologists going to other countries and replicating - aren't there like, actual psychologists in non-WEIRD countries, that could have done this kind of replication a long time ago and published on it? Again, why did this take so long?
I'm reminded of Scott's "Iron Curtain of Psychiatry" issue. Maybe there's just not much exchange.
:arrow: TL;DR: 27, trans woman, M.A. in math, Seattle area. Tutor by current trade, but in a bit of professional limbo (if you know anyone hiring, let me know!).

cactus head
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Joined: Sat May 06, 2017 3:37 pm

Re: WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

Post by cactus head » Sat May 13, 2017 3:14 am

http://hci.ucsd.edu/102b/readings/WeirdestPeople.pdf

I found an interesting review of the literature on WEIRD, dating back from 2010. Here's an article on this topic called 'The weirdest people in the world?' with many pages of open peer commentary after. It's essentially a summary of previous findings and it includes specific examples of the ways in which WEIRD people are actually weird. For example, the Müller-Lyer illusion is an optical illusion where two lines with arrowheads on them pointing in opposite directions are percieved as differing in length:

Image

and this is an illusion to WEIRD people but not to say, San foragers of the Kalahari. Other differences include the willingness to dole out anti-social punishment between Western and non-Western people (the non-Westerners punished people more for acting co-operatively in a public goods game).

The commentary takes a lot of different paths. Fairly common themes are to discuss how to do psychology experiments in light of these findings, and what other areas of science need to account for the findings.

phaedrus
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Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 4:01 pm

Re: WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

Post by phaedrus » Sun May 14, 2017 8:54 pm

Here's some cross-cultural research on the Ultimatum Game: http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/Websi ... rs/ult.pdf
The Machiguenga often had difficulty articulating why they were willing to accept low offers, but several individuals made it clear that they would always accept any money, regardless of how much the proposer was getting. Rather than viewing themselves as being “screwed” by the proposer, they seemed to feel it was just bad luck that they were responders, and not proposers. Los Angeles players, in contrast, claimed they would reject “unfair” offers (below 25 percent usually), and a few claimed they would reject any offer below 50 percent. Correspondingly, some Los Angeles proposers, when asked why they offered 50 percent, said they were thinking of offering less, and that most people would accept less, but they figured there were some people out there who might reject an offer below 50 percent, so they wanted to be sure to get the $80 (half of the $160 stake).
The few Machiguenga proposers who offered 50 percent were, without exception, those who had had greater exposure and dealings with Westerners and especially North American evangelical missionaries—so they may have acquired some Western notions of fairness from these contacts. Los Angeles proposers were a mix of people concerned with fairness and people concerned with avoiding punishment. Interviews suggest that many Los Angeles proposers accurately assessed the potential behavior of responders (according to responder claims), and adjusted their behavior to ensure offer acceptance. Besides the substantial differences found between the Machiguenga and other subject populations, we observe differences between Los Angeles and Yogyakarta using high stakes, and between Pittsburgh and Yogyakarta using lower stakes (see Table 1). Coupled with the previously observed difference between Pittsburgh and Jerusalem (Roth et al., 1991), it becomes increasingly difficult to account for UG behavior without considering that, perhaps, subjects from different places arrived at the experiments with different rules of behavior, expectations of fairness, and/or tastes for punishment.

hoghoghoghoghog
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Joined: Sun May 14, 2017 8:15 pm

Re: WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

Post by hoghoghoghoghog » Mon May 15, 2017 1:29 am

Now I want to see a mixed group of Machiguenga and Angelenos play against each other and find out how long it takes for their strategies to evolve. Toy version of the question "does immigration affect community norms."

Raininginsanity
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Joined: Tue May 23, 2017 4:50 am

Re: WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

Post by Raininginsanity » Tue May 23, 2017 5:47 am

Every theory that has been talked about so far are the famous examples that all undergrads learn, especially if you take a cultural psychology class. The WEIRD bias is a mainstream position and the literature almost always mentions it as a limitation of the study at hand.

Psychology is a relatively new science. For half its life, it wasn't really a science at all. It's a completely different field than it was 50 years ago. In that same time frame, the rest of the world has been catching up to the west in the sciences. Basic assumptions about humanity have been completely overturned. And then there's the whole fact that culture and diversity haven't even really been considered valuable for that long (at least not here in the states, not sure about Europe). So I consider it unsurprising that psychology took as long as it did to figure out that these theories weren't universal.

phaedrus
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Re: WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

Post by phaedrus » Sun May 28, 2017 12:56 am

Raininginsanity wrote:
Tue May 23, 2017 5:47 am
Every theory that has been talked about so far are the famous examples that all undergrads learn, especially if you take a cultural psychology class. The WEIRD bias is a mainstream position and the literature almost always mentions it as a limitation of the study at hand.
Can confirm - I found the paper I linked by digging up a paper I wrote for an undergrad experimental philosophy class. (Yes, experimental philosophy. AFAICT it's behavioral economics for people who don't want to be called economists.)

Raininginsanity
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Re: WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

Post by Raininginsanity » Sun May 28, 2017 6:34 am

Can confirm - I found the paper I linked by digging up a paper I wrote for an undergrad experimental philosophy class. (Yes, experimental philosophy. AFAICT it's behavioral economics for people who don't want to be called economists.)
I would assume experimental philosophy would deal with rational choice theory, game theory, decision theory and stuff along those lines?

And just so that I can stay on topic: I'd like to point out that (certain) optical illusions work on people who grew up in artificial worlds instead of out in nature and on the plains. I don't know of any optical illusions that are WEIRD specific. Optical illusions that work on WEIRD people would work on any ethnicity that didn't spend most of their time in natural environments. If i remember correctly, this is the Carpenter World hypothesis?

Makes me curious about whether beavers and bees experience similar optical illusions. 🤔

phaedrus
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Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 4:01 pm

Re: WEIRD and non-WEIRD: Universal results in psychology that aren't

Post by phaedrus » Tue Jun 27, 2017 3:58 am

Raininginsanity wrote:
Sun May 28, 2017 6:34 am
Can confirm - I found the paper I linked by digging up a paper I wrote for an undergrad experimental philosophy class. (Yes, experimental philosophy. AFAICT it's behavioral economics for people who don't want to be called economists.)
I would assume experimental philosophy would deal with rational choice theory, game theory, decision theory and stuff along those lines?
Game theory, yes. Not so much rational choice theory or decision theory -- I don't think those phrases were used in the class at all. Most of the material was along those lines. One other experiment I remember reading about was a similar game designed to test Rawlsian resource allocation.

To be fair, I skipped most of the class and the professor was an adjunct who'd just gotten an offer from a much more prestigious university and phoned the semester in, so the field in general might deal with those things.

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