Jul 1, 2020
Welcome to our 10th episode! Today’s show is another in our ‘mini minds’ series. We’ve been experimenting with different formats for our minis, as you may have noticed, but today we’ve got another in the classic blogpost style.
The topic is the acronym WEIRD—maybe you’ve heard it used. It stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It’s become a shorthand for the idea that people in WEIRD societies are a bit unusual relative to the rest our species. The term was first introduced 10 years ago. On this episode I talk about its origins and the far-reaching influence it’s had since.
As with all episodes, be sure to check out the show notes for a smorgasbord of links and tidbits. There was a lot I had to leave on the cutting room floor with this one. But I swept some of it up and put it in the notes for anyone who’s interested.
A text version of this "mini" is readable here.
Notes and links
2:00 – The birthplace of the acronym: ‘The weirdest people in the world?’
2:44 – A 2008 paper by Jeffrey Arnett that provided key support for the first part of Henrich et al.’s two-part argument.
3:35 – The visual illusion in question is the Müller-Lyer Illusion.
3:52 – These cultural differences in spatial conceptualization were first widely reported by Stephen Levinson and colleagues. See his book for the full story (or see a popular article of mine for a much shorter version).
4:33 – See the commentary by Meadon and Spurrett titled ‘It’s not just the subjects – there are too many WEIRD researchers.’
4:45 – See the commentary by Rozin titled ‘The weirdest people in the world are a harbinger of the future of the world.’ For an expansion of Rozin’s argument, with more examples, see my article on “global WEIRDing”.
5:45 – See David F. Lancy, The Anthropology of Childhood. (Note that only the second edition came out after the WEIRD article was published.) One part of child development that proves unexpectedly variable across cultures is learning to walk and other motor milestones.
6:30 – The intersection of smell and WEIRD-ness is discussed in a recent special issue—see the editorial introduction here. Long-standing ideas about the impoverished nature of human olfaction are discussed here.
6:48 – A study comparing olfactory sensitivity in Tsimane people and Germans.
6:55 – For discussion of the idea that odors are ineffable, see this article. The same article was also among the first to characterize the elaborated and consistently applied odor lexicon of a hunter-gatherer group. Other papers have since built on this work.
7:23 – See the paper titled ‘WEIRD bodies: Mismatch, medicine, and missing diversity.’ Foot flatness and flexibility in “conventionally shod” populations are discussed in this paper.
8:10 – The researchers behind the original WEIRD paper—and their students—have kept busy themselves, exploring and expanding many related themes. See papers on theodiversity, the possible influence of the Catholic Church on WEIRD psychology, and the use of a new tool for mapping degrees of cultural distance.
8:22 – For a variety of articles raising issues of sample diversity, see: the 2014 opinion piece on the exclusion of left-handers from studies in cognitive neuroscience; another piece on diversity issues in cognitive neuroscience, focusing on issues of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic homogeneity; an article on “anglocentrism” in linguistics; and a commentary on “missing diversity” in genetics.
10:00 – For recent critiques, see here and here. The quote about the “homogeneous West” comes from the Broesch et al. (2020) paper; the quote about treating humans as “endangered butterflies” comes from Barrett (2020). Conducting research on sensitive populations is a major theme of Broesch et al. (2020).
Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI) (https://www.diverseintelligencessummer.com/), which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted by Kensy Cooperrider, with creative support from DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster, and Associate Director Hilda Loury. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd (https://www.mayhilldesigns.co.uk/). Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala (https://sarahdopierala.wordpress.com/).
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