Being weird

A brilliant article floated to the top of Hacker News yesterday about the work of Joe Henrich and his colleagues. I’m learning a lot about behavioural psychology at the moment because I’m thinking about cognitive biases in the way investments get selected. The basic point of the article is that a lot of our understanding of psychology is warped for a simple reason:

More than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners—with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.

This led Henrich to coin an acronym — WEIRD for Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic. And it turns out that you get very different results if you don’t use us as a sample group. It’s well worth watching out for when you’re looking at research or thinking about psychological or economic models. Not everybody is the same and actually we’re probably the weird ones.

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