View Full Version : More cosmopolitan psychological studies show that many human traits are not universal

24-05-12, 21:30
I'd like to discuss a very interesting article from The Economist on how crowdsourcing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing) is changing the most fundamental concepts of psychology. Until recently, most of the psychological experiments were conducted on undergraduate students from Western countries, in other words on a category of people who could be described as WEIRD (an acronym for Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic.)

The problem is that this slice of the world population is not at all representative, and even constitues a distinct minority as far as psychological behaviour is concerned. That is why a substantial portion of what Western psychologists thought they knew about human behaviour, and notably group behaviour, or what they thought were universal human traits, could actually be completely wrong when applied to the greater part of humanity.

Unfortunately it has been hard to balance Western studies with non-Western ones because the field of psychology is still very dominantly a Western one (as a recent branch of Western philosophy). Non-Western industrialised countries with similar levels of development like Japan, Hong Kong or Singapore, are still fairly backward in the field of psychology.

Here is the article:

The roar of the crowd: Crowdsourcing is transforming the science of psychology (http://www.economist.com/node/21555876)

A few years ago Dr Herrmann ran a series of experiments designed to see how public-goods games would play out in 16 countries, not all of them rich and Western. This time, he allowed freeloaders to punish co-operators, a behaviour known as antisocial punishment. His results were striking. Most of the world, the experiments suggested, bears little resemblance to Harvard or, indeed, anywhere else in the West, where antisocial punishment is virtually absent. In places like South Korea, Greece, Russia and Saudi Arabia, antisocial punishment proved to be almost as common as collaboration.
Punishment did not evolve, as conventional wisdom has it, as a positive behaviour intended to encourage co-operation. Instead, it evolved as a self-interested weapon to fend off competitors, even when that competition is, in fact, a strategy of collaboration. In places where rules and institutions do not protect co-operators, freeloaders consistently dominate.

Is this divergence between WEIRD and other respondents caused by differences in culture or development ? Is there something in English-speaking culture or system that encourage the protection of co-operators that other countries lack ? Or is it just something that comes naturally once a certain level of development is reached ? I have my doubts about the latter considering how developed a country like South Korea already is (soon to overtake Japan in GDP per capita, and in almost everything else too).