Why is so much Psychology research WEIRD?

What Does WEIRD Mean?

You may be thinking I’m referring to the Stanford Prison experiment or Andrew Wakefield scandal when I call research weird, but no, I’m referring to the more subtle unacknowledged form of weird in numerous psychology studies which stands for western, educated, and from industrialized, rich, and democratic countries.

Much research needing human voluntary participants, especially in human behavioural, emotional or cognitive psychology experiments take place predominantly in such countries which are in industrialised, western nations and a huge swathe of participants are recruited on university campuses as there is a huge population ready to volunteer for that 30 minute cognitive task for a fiver. It can be efficient to recruit participants this way but it also means that participant groups are largely more homogenous than we intend them to be.

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Experimental Prejudice

This means huge amounts of the global population who have not ever entered higher education, that live in an agricultural nation, are working class, live in countries with different political systems or even living in anywhere that is not the western world are not being considered or reflected in research.

I took part in many experiments at university and most of the WEIRD boxes, because I live in the UK which is a developed, democratic nation, was in higher education and am pretty westernized. Participation sheets littered notice boards with the promise of class credits or a tenner. No effort that I saw was used to recruit anybody even from the town centre when they could have all the participants they needed on their campus doorstep.

Ecological Invalidity

Machery found that between 2003 and 2007, 96 per cent of psychological samples came from countries with only 12 per cent of the world’s populations. The study also found the non-WEIRD counterparts showed major differences across a spectrum of key areas, including visual perception, fairness, spatial and moral reasoning, memory and conformity.

This is an enormous amount of the population that needs to be explored far more and means previous research cannot be as ecologically valid and may only be reflective of certain populations. These vast demographic differences can have far reaching consequences as clinical disorders may manifest differently, behaviours could mean different things and missteps could be made.

Making It Less WEIRD And More Representative

There are ways to reduce WEIRDness in psychology if researchers form more partnerships with less WEIRD institutions, if more research can be promoted and funded in more countries, non-WEIRD counterparts are encouraged more to participate in experiments and researchers at least acknowledge their sample may be a little WEIRD. So next time you’re looking for a critique of a study, perhaps look at where the participant recruitment took place.

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