That’s So W.E.I.R.D.

This was an academic epiphany which made headlines several years ago. A sobering realization happened in the field of psychology. Researchers on university campuses woke up to the reality that their highly scientific and precisely controlled recruitment methodology (i.e. approaching folks in the immediate environment who’ll do pretty much anything to make a few bucks) was resulting in a sea of research subjects almost entirely composed of college students. Yet the research results were being applied as representative of the whole population and in many instances as representative of the universal human condition.

You may commence with the vigorous application of your palm to your face now.

This was described by the acronym W.E.I.R.D. The vast majority of research has been conducted in places and upon people who are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. After realizing this and digging a little outside of the W.E.I.R.D world, it became apparent that so much of what has been considered or popularly perceived as typical, if not universal, human behavior is actually quite odd and fringy compared to most people in most places around the globe at most times in history.

WEIRDness has an effect on everything from perceptions and practices in sexuality to the ability to perceive optical illusions in visually deceiving images. The way humans work (and how malleable we can be) is far weirder than many of us ever imagined.

Even more mind-blowing is the fact that the shape of the W.E.I.R.D. description itself is an artifact of W.E.I.R.D. minds in a W.E.I.R.D. world. Only WEIRDos like us think in categories and deal in terms that prioritize the modern education system, industry and technology, superabundance of wealth, and democratic sociopolitical rhythms as the chief defining parameters of culture, society, and personal success. Other cultures and societies find such priorities to be . . . well . . . weird.

I like to think that being the out-of-place premodern Augustian type makes me a little more keen on feeling the presence of this reality.