Saturday, September 17, 2011

WEIRD people and psychology

One issue that comes to mind is how does the scientific study of psychology affect the population itself? The practice of a the rigorous, ahistorical, scientific study of animal behavior (at least as modern psychology understands itself) presumes or requires the studying population to have adopted certain behaviors and attitudes: an understanding of inductive logic, the mathematics of statistics, the concept of quasi-objective study, and so on. The historical discipline of scientific research psychology has emerged from the WEIRD societies, and is practiced by non-WEIRD societies (like China, India, or Japan, perhaps) only to the extent that those societies may have adopted some features of the WEIRD societies. That is to say, for the WEIRD psychologists accept the work of non-WEIRD psychologists only to the extent that the non-WEIRD psychologists behave like WEIRD psychologists (especially with regards to concepts like rigour, validity, statistical correleation, strong vs. weak evidence, focus on quantifiable or measurable values, and so on.)

The problem extends to WEIRD psychologists examining members of non-WEIRD populations. Non-WEIRD participants must be able to understand instructions, understand the concept of participating in a psychological study, and so on. The latter here is significant; the findings of the Nuremberg tribunals (themselves a WEIRD social institution) require that all human participants in medical studies (usually considered to include psychological studies) must provide informed consent, which assumes an ability to understand what they are expected to do, what might be done to them, and what effects the study may have.

So it may be an inherent limitation of scientific psychology as it is practiced in the WEIRD societies that it can only study WEIRD individuals or individuals with WEIRD-like features.

Googlebombing for a cause:

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