The authors of a recent review paper in the academic journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) argue that much research in the behavioural sciences is based on an unusual group of people. The participants in most experimental studies come from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. The authors ask how representative findings based on such a small and exotic sub-population are and whether they can be generalized to mankind as a whole. More controversially they go on to argue that these findings are in fact based on outliers.

As is customary for BBS the article is followed by an open peer commentary section in which other scholars respond to the target article.

It's an interesting paper and the comments make for a good collection. Next time you read a pop neuroscience or psychology article in the New Yorker or Scientific American ask yourself who the participants in the original studies were and whether the results make any sense in a real-life context.

Henrich, J., Heine, S.J. and Norenzayan, A. (2010).  The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33: 61-135.

A one page summary of the main argument was published as an opinion article in Nature.

Henrich, J., Heine, S.J. and Norenzayan, A. (2010). Most people are not WEIRD. Nature 466: 29.