The Hidden Biases in WEIRD Psychology Research


[♪ INTRO] Psychology is the study of
human behavior and the mind, so it’s easy to imagine that researchers
are trying to learn universal truths. But humans come in a lot of different flavors. So we can’t make sweeping predictions about
all of humanity based on the limited populations that are usually used in psychology research. In fact, many subjects may actually be psychological
outliers, so we should be careful about jumping to conclusions about what makes humans tick. See, most research subjects in behavioral
sciences, which include psychology, economics, and cognitive science, belong to what’s
called the WEIRD population. Coined by researchers in 2010,
WEIRD is an acronym that stands for Western, educated,
industrialized, rich, and democratic. These subgroups are more likely to have the
resources and educational systems to support academic research, but it means that the studies
that they publish can be really skewed. For example, in 2008, a study of more than
4,000 articles published over 20 years found that around 95% of
behavioral science research subjects come from the U.S., Europe, and
English-speaking countries like Australia. But these countries only make up about 12%
of the world’s population! The same analysis found that 68% of subjects
are from the United States, and more than two-thirds of American psychology research
subjects are undergraduate students. So another review in 2010 looked at dozens
of studies in the behavioral sciences and concluded something that seems kind of…
obvious. But it’s worth saying: American college
students aren’t representative of all humans. They’re actually a pretty unusual subgroup. So they were given the acronym WEIRD. Like, take the W in WEIRD. As one example, research has found that Western
subjects tend to report having higher self-esteem than many non-Western subjects. Some scientists have pointed out that this
might just reflect how different cultures value things like modesty. This could affect how people describe themselves
but not how they actually feel. And even within the same country or region,
people aren’t the same. Just looking at a “typical” American psychology
subject, an undergrad student, compared to most Americans reveals some differences in self-perception, ethics,
and economic decision making. For instance, researchers compared a bunch
of studies on the Ultimatum Game, which is a financial sharing and decision-making task that was designed for psychology
and economics experiments. Specifically, they were looking at the “E”
in the WEIRD acronym, to understand how people in college made money decisions in this game, and whether those results
could be generalized to all people. And they found that undergrads are more likely
to offer less money to another person compared to American adults who aren’t currently,
and may have never been, college students. So even just within the U.S. economy, it’s
important to recognize that the typical research subject’s behavior doesn’t really tell
you how the typical person manages money. And education is just part of society. Society-wide traits like industrialization,
which is basically a shift from growing food to making goods, has some pretty dramatic
effects on psychology, too. For example, a number of studies have found
that people who speak English and other Indo-European languages tend to use words meaning “left”
or “right” to describe where things are. In other words, we use egocentric terms, and
view objects relative to where we are. But it turns out that’s a pretty unusual
way to think of things. People in smaller-scale societies tend to
speak languages that favor allocentric terms, like “behind” or “above,” or even
cardinal directions like “north” or “south.” This anchors objects in relation to other
things or the environment. This is important when it comes
to behavioral research, because it suggests that this way of thinking is cultural. It’s a result of the language we speak and
the environment we grew up in. And all this doesn’t even begin to cover
differences in wealth or political structure, either. But the point is: researching outside of the
WEIRD bubble is really important because it lets psychologists puzzle out things that
do seem to be universally human. Like, most people seem to recognize the same
facial expressions meaning specific emotions, like anger and happiness. And we’re pretty sure that most people perceive
the same colors, even though the amount of names for colors might vary between languages. Now, this isn’t to say that WEIRD studies, and all the psychology research
done so far, isn’t valuable. It is! It’s just important to recognize its limitations. And if we want to learn the most we can about humans, we need to study more different kinds of humans. Because, again, different flavors. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych! If you want to dive into another example of
how our brains might be influenced by our cultures, check out our video about an optical
illusion that doesn’t work for everyone. [♪ OUTRO]

100 Replies to “The Hidden Biases in WEIRD Psychology Research”

  1. How are behind any different from left or right? All 3 are in relation to yourself or yourself relative to another object. Only above can be used in non-human relative ways…

  2. That's just another reason to add onto the the very long list of why multiculturalism never has, nor never will work, kiddies.

  3. I have said for a long time now that while useful on some levels, the subject pool for a lot of psychological research is heavily skewed. My favourite example of this is eating disorders. For a long time, it was though eating disorders only affected affluent, adolescent, white females. But in reality, those were the only subjects able to or sent to treatment. We now know they can affect anybody, regardless of race, gender, age, culture, or income level. What we don't really know are the exact numbers because it is hard to find a broad enough sample range.

  4. What an ironic title. They call these studies WEIRD, but it's all about adjusting for norms. I was expecting studies on abnormal psychology…

  5. Soooo…right and left are egocentric, whereas behind and above are allocentric? "On the right side of the shelf" is not relative to me; it's on the shelves right side. "Above the shelf" falls under the same category to me; it's not relative to me, it's relative to the shelf. If someone moved the shelf say to the right of the object, the object is no longer "on the right side of the shelf", but on the left side. Or am I simply not understanding correctly what is being presented here?

  6. QUESTION: Ive just saw Sophia robot gaining citizenship in Saudi Arabia, and it remind me a doubt I about something Ive noticed about robotic design and many other things: ¿WHY DO HUMANS HAVE THE(PRIMITIVE) BEHAVIOR OF TRYING TO MAKE EVERYTHING(Gods, animals, nature, robots) IN THEIR OWN IMAGE, APPEARANCE AND BEHAVIOR, TO RELATE AND CONNECT TO THEM? Why are robotic guys trying to make creepy copies of humans, when they could make could make Chappie, Optimus Prime, Voltron, Jaegers? That would be so freaking awesome!
    Anyway, that "primitve" behavior of trying to make things like us to relate to them, has really damaged our understanding of the universe and reality. Like thinking nature has a mind like ours, stars, animals and other phenomena, when in reality, they DON'T, but instead have AMAZING mechanisms that work them and make them what they are. Science, biology, astronomy, chemistry, physicist, psychology, etc.
    Give us robots THE WAY THEY SHOULD BE, like badass awesome looking robots!

  7. you guys need a citation for the comment that ppl preceve colour equally… i say that cuz when you try to find such is when you realize your folly. perception is what your brain sees, and is NOT what your eyes transmit (which is the part that is closest to ppl being equal, if you ignore the disparity in cone counts…)..
    Booourns!

  8. Generation may have an effect as well. People in college today may be more risk-averse because they grew up in a recession, as well as a post-911 America (and the whole "modern parents never let their kids out of their site" thing).

  9. How does using egocentric directions instead of allocentric terms relate to the way men and women tend to view the environment? Men tend to overwhelmingly use allocentric terms, particularly when giving directions, whereas women tend to use egocentric terms.

    I've heard this explained using evolutionary psychology as a result of the fact that men tended to be hunters and developed navigational skills that relied on direction and distance, since herds of mammoth tended to wander, whereas women tended to be gatherers and relied more on landmarks, because berry bushes aren't migratory.

    I'm just wondering if that has something to do with why WEIRD populations tend to use egocentric terms. Perhaps, since our nations tend to be far more settled and industrialised, we rely more on landmarks for navigation, and that's reflected in our language use.

  10. Mmmmmm…. we got our psychology wrong, let's use more psychology on loosely related studies of the Same people to solve it!

  11. I would think that humans would usually be psychological outliers in some area, just because of how complex we are. Each person is just too large a sample size.

    Maybe some of the most visible outliers get hammered out by social conformism.

  12. This video sparked my little American brain! ⚡️ I'm glad you're encouraging seeking out different perspectives because it's true how Americans are extremely egocentric. 😅

  13. How is "behind" or "above" different from "left" or "right"?

    You can say the refrigerator is to the left of the stove…
    (Which is relative to the wall and the direction the appliances are facing)
    Or you could say the ceiling fan is above me…the couch is behind me….
    (Which is relative to the speaker)

    Using those words themselves really has no bearing on the perspective.

    And Western, or American, people dont tend to use cardinal directions too much (aside from driving directions) because we simply dont know which way our house and other places are even oriented. Our modern culture basically makes that pointless knowledge.
    We use GPS for one…and also…very little about our society (besides roads) is based on cardinal directions.
    In more primitive societies the houses, villages, etc. are likely to be laid out with cardinal directions in mind…since they dont have electric lighting and air conditioning.

    Not using cardinal directions in our society isnt the result of ego…its the result of practicality.
    When it is practical for us…we use them.

    Before Americans had electric lighting, air conditioning, GPS, etc. they too referred to cardinal directions far more often.

    Not because they were less egocentric…but because it was a useful way of communicating at that time…and now it isnt.

    Why would i tell someone my bathroom is on the south side of my house…when they dont know which direction they are oriented?
    I would tell them its straight ahead, or to the left, etc…based on where we are standing and facing.

  14. How often did you left somethin behind ,
    to do the right thing, felt above everyone,
    but from there on, everything went south

  15. As a westerner living in India I have been befuddled by how many Indian people have a poor grasp of 'left' and 'right'. Every day people around me get this basic function confused, no matter their social or economic standing.

    It never occurred to me that it may have come from a sense of self.

    Getting directions from an Indian is often an exercise in frustration and confusion.

  16. That and joining such studies is voluntary so people who are lazy/busy/depressed/apathetic/paranoid will never be included either.

  17. Research subjects should have to give permission, before research begins. Non disclosure agreements should be illegal in university research.

  18. I don't like how in psychological evaluations, it'll state that, "patient denies any history with drug and/or alcohol abuse."

    "Denies" denotes a dishonest connotation. Why don't they use "does/does not report" instead?

  19. This, combined with the whole p-hacking replicability crisis seems to be undermining the credibility of social sciences as a whole. Is it necessary to start from scratch, barring some fundamental axioms?

  20. so what we need are more agrarian societies to spend money on psychological research to help round out the demographics. come on Africa, Asia, and S. America get your stuff together and contribute.

  21. I didn't realize i was being egocentric when describing the relation to objects from my prospective my mind was kinda blown by that i am going to try and change the descriptive language i use from here on another word i am trying not to use any more is "luck" its a western term the rest of the world uses less or more fortunate "luck" leaves an impression on the brain that you don't have control of your decisions

  22. My first thought was that I saw more students from abroad while at uni for my second set of degrees compared to my first set 20 years ago, and that means more demographics will be included by default. But, then I realized that the first two letters in the WEIRD acronym, rather than being separate "Western" and "Educated", it's becoming one "Western-Educated". Not sure that will help to remove the bias, but at least it helped me understand the bias a little more.

  23. When doing surveys, there is always selection which is a big bias too. Only people who fill in surveys will fill in surveys. The other people (who are a big majority) might have filled in the surveys much differently

  24. We need studies that cover people as a whole (global) as well as studies of various smaller groups. Then we can determine how certain occurrences will most likely affect each type or group of people and how the effects will vary among the groups.

  25. This video makes me miss taking psychology tests. I got one online about behavior a long time ago and enjoyed their results.

  26. I always thought that "weird" meant something like this:
    W- wonderful
    E- entertaining
    I- interesting
    R- real
    D- different
    This Acronym fits me and my family perfectly! But of course what yall were talking about is way awesomeness too!!!
    #fanofScishow

  27. It should be noted that the psychological studies weren't only done on native people. At least here in Scotland we have students from a bit of everywhere, China, India, various parts of Africa, Brazil, etc. Also not to mention offspring from people of parents from different regions of the earth. So it may be that the values are skewed but I find that in the video it was portrayed a bit too much of "the west vs the world."

  28. People clearly see colours differently than me. I'm constantly being told about all these white and black people, but I have yet to see a single person who is one of these colours.
    All I ever see are really ugly shades of brown from light tan to dark chocolate.

  29. i'm a knitter, and her sweater is seriously distracting me from learning, but on the plus side I have a new pattern to try:P

  30. Thank you, this is exactly why we still can't figure out cognitive decline and wrongly diagnose people based on old tests that were validated primarily on Caucasians -_-

  31. You make it sound so evil to say left and right. But think about it as a cultural decision. When a person says left to you is forces you to put yourself in their shoes mentally. Yes… How egotistical… It's not to say it's the better system or even that it matters, I'd still like you to show that, but at least we can get a whole picture now. Let's start there before you go to insults.

  32. How did you manage to leave out the spectrum of racial and ethnic diversity in the US, and the long history of scientic racism that still isn't being addressed in psychology?

  33. Reminds me of this one article I read which claimed that science had disproven the "early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" quote. The study it claimed to have done this was an experiment in which all the subjects were teens, and completely neglected to mention that peoples' sleeping habits have been found to change depending on age, gravitating towards going to bed later as youth, and sooner as grown-ups. Knowing that, it seems more likely the results of that experiment can be chalked up to the age of the subjects, not Franklin's being wrong about men (note his quote direction mentioned men, not youths; men weren't even studied here).

  34. Fix, step 1: fund these properly so they don't have to settle for students in the same college the study is in

  35. For a more in depth look at the WEIRD research and it's ramifications check out this article. A link to the original journal article is also contained. If we are ever going to live in a world at peace, it won't happen living in our own little Western bubble while projecting that "bubble" out onto the rest of the world.

    https://psmag.com/social-justice/joe-henrich-weird-ultimatum-game-shaking-up-psychology-economics-53135

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *