WEIRD people: cultural differences in reasoning style and visual perception

When we travel to exotic countries, especially developing nations, we often find the locals to be kind of weird. But let’s be honest, we are the weird ones, because we are the minority.

I was very glad to find that some scholars had the same thought, and just published their research on the dangers of relying on Western samples for generalizing to the human population. As I previously posted, there is evidence of differences in visual perceptions and decision making across cultures (see Nisbett, The Geography of Thought), but few scientist have been investigating the topic.

Luckily a new era seems about to start.
Nature and Science have been covering the topic, reporting the results of a study on “The weirdest people in the world” by Henrich, Heine & Norenzayan (Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 2010), where WEIRD stands for
societies. They show how the result of experiments conducted in the United States and other industrialized societies are not representative of the human population as a whole.
Of particular interest for Knowledge Visualization is the difference in visual perception and spatial cognition. For example the Muller-Lyer illusion (in the picture below) seems to be stronger for westerners than for small-scale traditional societies. Similarly, in most of comparative studies Westerners, and particularly Americans, “occupy the extreme end of the human distribution” (pg.5).

There seems to be a general trend toward an understanding of the need to consider non-western perspectives, as confirmed by the next Academy of Management meeting theme “West meets East”
Stay tuned for our forthcoming experimental results comparing Europe and Asia 😉

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