WEIRD Bias in Western Social Science Research?

There is a provocative article called “The weirdest people in the world?” by Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayanon on the western biases in much anthropological, psychological and other social science literature. WEIRED stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies bias. This critical article has serious implications for much of the research on psychological attitudes, such as prejudice and stereotyping, as well as for other social science research that is automatically generalized extended to non-European groups in the West and to non-western cultures/countries. Indeed, a key point of this review of research is that the social science research samples are usually not just biased in terms of being only western, but also usually white, “educated,” rich, and, one might add, often young and college students.

The responses to the original article are also very interesting too. One commentator, for example,

notes that in 510 samples published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP) in 2002, 85% of them were student samples, 71% of the participants were female, more than 80% were white, and the mean age was 22.9 years (Gosling et al. 2004).

Many studies – and thus textbooks — base their psychological generalizations on these mostly white, female, and young college students.

One commentator explains some problems with broad social science generalizations from such WEIRD samples:

Weinberg et al. (2001) and Nichols et al. (2003) showed that American students of European ancestry and American students of East Asian ancestry have different intuitions about a variety of thought experiments that have played a central role in contemporary philosophy. They also report differences in intuitions between high- and low-socioeconomic status (SES) participants, where years of education was the major determinant in classifying a participant as high or low SES. . . . The classic work of Brandt (1954) [also] reports some dramatic differences between the moral judgments of Hopi people and white Americans that apparently cannot be explained by differences in factual beliefs.

Interestingly, another commentator points out one of the advantages of the new use of Internet research methods, including Internet surveys. Several studies using Internet samples reveal they

are not as dominated by WEIRD participants as are samples currently published in behavioral science journals. Moreover, even though the percentages of non-WEIRD participants in the Internet samples may seem modest, Internet methods permit the collection of large samples, so the absolute sample sizes of non-Weird participants can be quite impressive. For example, although the sample was predominantly North American … the sample represented a breadth of geographic regions from around the world: 111 countries, from Albania (N ¼ 215) to Venezuela (N ¼ 1,920), were represented ….

So, it appears that too much western social science is indeed WEIRD and thus ethnocentric and parochial in its often too global generalizations. Or is it?