Beki Grinter

WEIRD People: Why American Undergraduates are not the World

In DRAFT on September 1, 2010 at 11:18 am

I’ve been catching up on some of my backlog of reading (I think I have a perpetual backlog of reading, but now that I’ve just finished Gilly Leshed and Phoebe Senger’s CHI 2011 paper on the culture of busyness, I am more aware of how that is part of my identity).

Today I want to talk about being WEIRD. WEIRD stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic populations. And the reason I want to discuss it is that being weird was the subject of a fairly recent publication and associated opinion/news pieces. Three psychologists from the University of British Columbia in Canada argue that while much research on human behaviour and psychology has assumed that the characteristics of WEIRD that assumption is problematic.

Citing a 2008 survey they argue that in top psychology journals 96% of all subjects in trials were WEIRD. And further, that the results claimed as a result rarely considered the limits of generalizability from this population. They go on to argue that like anthropologists have long known, that psychologists need to spend more time on experimentation outside of the classic WEIRD populations, and especially American undergraduates. They also recommend that funding agencies take culturally different experiments more seriously in their funding proposals and recommendations.

I’m excited by this recommendation and I think what HCI which draws on psychology, anthropology and other disciplines in its empirical approaches, is well positioned to be a part of the post-WEIRD research world. Whether it be studying ICTs in the Global South or cultural coordination among collaborative workgroups, I think we’re already paying attention to what the scope of the WEIRD is. It’s just good to hear calls from Psychology that we should attend to the WEIRD and think in global different terms. I also like the idea of studying non-WEIRD populations and calling the population that is normally underspecified, WEIRD.


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