Psychological Research Fails to Capture Human Diversity, Researchers Call for Action

Data demonstrate an overreliance of non-representative and non-diverse sampling biases in psychological research

Zenobia Morrill
9
1351

New data published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology demonstrates that the vast majority of psychological research is conducted on “WEIRD” (people from western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic backgrounds) samples, and then incorrectly generalized to be representative of humans globally. This ongoing problem not only discounts the influence of culture on human development but shows little sign of improvement in recent years.

“Failure to confront the possibility that culturally specific findings are being misattributed as universal traits has broad implications for the construction of scientifically defensible theories and for the reliable public dissemination of study findings.”

Previous research has noted the dearth of psychological literature featuring data on the experiences of people outside of Western contexts. When only a small subset of people are consistently sampled, claims to provide evidence for the universality of those results are rendered incomplete, inaccurate, and potentially harmful. Yet, an earlier analysis of research published between the years 2003 and 2007, found that 96% of psychological samples came from countries representing only 12% of the world’s population.

As a way to call attention to the atypicality of samples behavioral scientists routinely draw from, researchers began referring to this population as WEIRD. This acronym is used to highlight the overreliance of sampling from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies, which are among the least representative of humanity overall. When used to theorize about the human experience broadly, these sampling methods contribute to the marginalization of those who deviate from an erroneous “norm” defined by WEIRD participant data.

“Where research efforts are focused on identifying core mechanisms or universal aspects of psychology, failure to acknowledge the possible impact of environment on the behavior of participants must be considered at best neglectful and at worst bad science.”

Nielsen and a team of researchers did a follow-up study to observe participant sampling in articles published in consistently ranked developmental psychology journals (Child Development, Developmental Psychology, and Developmental Science) between 2006 and 2010. Their findings were remarkably similar to earlier research demonstrating that the experiences of most people in the world are underrepresented in high impact developmental journals.

While Central and South Asia, the Middle East, Israel, Africa, and Asia contain about 85% of the world’s population, participants from these countries were only present in 112 out of the 1,582 articles reviewed in this study. Additionally, across all studies, 97% of participants were WEIRD. Only 4% of first authors for articles were located at institutions in Asia and Israel, 2 articles featured first authors located in Central or South America, and none were located in the Middle East or Africa.

“The critical point about author origin is that it emphasizes how developmental psychology, as a discipline, is characterized as one in which individuals in WEIRD institutions study WEIRD participants,” write the researchers.

The make-up of participant backgrounds in psychological research is therefore culture-specific and poses a risk when used to broadly inform policy and interventions. This is especially true considering how the evidence supports differences across cultures in areas related to parenting, children’s learning processes, and other tasks.

Perhaps most sobering are the stark similarities between the data found in previous studies and in the present one. This underscores the lack of progress to move away from sampling bias, despite increased promotion of multicultural competency in psychology.

“This does not present a picture of a discipline thoughtfully contemplating its limitations and readily embracing change.”

The research team addresses a number of reasons as to why WEIRD sampling may persist ranging from accessibility to the journal to language barriers and wester-centric publication criteria. They offer a number of suggestions to facilitate greater diversity in sampling including:

“(a) encouraging publication of studies that feature non-WEIRD participants, (b) encouraging replication in a new population of a previously established finding, and (c) encouraging theoretically motivated cross-cultural comparisons that examine how children’s cultural environments might affect their development.”

“We need to accept the challenge posed by diversity, provide the explanations it requires, and harness this information to build an improved set of encompassing theories about the development of the human mind.”

 

****

Nielsen, M., Haun, D., Kärtner, J., & Legare, C. H. (2017). The persistent sampling bias in developmental psychology: A call to action. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology162, 31-38. (Full Text)

9 COMMENTS

  1. “We need to accept the challenge posed by diversity, provide the explanations it requires, and harness this information to build an improved set of encompassing theories about the development of the human mind.”

    We NEED to… ? Why? Someone tell me why.

    Welcome to The Globalist Agenda. Understanding the full context of the globalists’ vision is beyond the scope of this site. However, it should give you a solid introductory level understanding of their horrifying vision for the world. http://www.globalistagenda.org/

    “We need to accept the challenge posed by diversity, provide the explanations it requires, and harness this information to build an improved set of encompassing theories about the development of the human mind.”

    I guess they might need to do that.

    • I don’t know, Cat, I think it’s totally legit to question research that doesn’t include cultural variables. What about those WHO studies showing that third-world countries had much better “schizophrenia” recovery rates than in the US/UK? I am against globalization as a manifestation of corporate dominance but in the context of science, I think it makes sense to realize that what “works” from a Western viewpoint won’t necessarily be seen as “working” by people from a different culture.

      • Seems to me they just want to invade the third world and other cultures with the usual medicalization of every problem in life.

        The whole goal of so called multiculturalism is to destroy the individual cultures and design one they want. Diversity is not the goal at all.

        Part of the ongoing process of destroying all traditions, languages, religions, individuality, family, gender, traditions, morality, god to re-assemble society in the future as a boring blank mono-culture they can more easily control.

        • You may be mistaking political multiculturalism for attending to scientific variables. The latter has no agenda except for truth, otherwise, it’s politics, not research. The WHO study was actually very important in this whole movement we’re involved in. They were hoping it would show that those poor, underprivileged countries would benefit from our benevolent drugging paradigm, but in fact, the opposite was proven to be true. They were so incredulous they forced the WHO to repeat the experiment, which had exactly the same results. It was one of Bob Whitaker’s “aha” studies that prompted him to write “Mad in America” in the first place.

          The problem isn’t honest multicultural scientific studies. The problem is when fake science becomes the mute handmaid of politics. Real science is our friend, and showing that psychiatry’s cultish practices don’t work is easier, I think, the further away from Western society we look.

          • “further away from Western society we look”

            And who exactly is “we” ?

            “Most grants to scientists and other academics at the university level come from the elite through their control of their foundations (see section on Philanthropy/NGOs). Because of this, the elite steer the direction of research by giving money for certain projects while not funding other avenues of research. All academics are dependent on these grants and are thus controlled lackeys for the elite.” http://www.globalistagenda.org/education.htm

            What about those WHO studies showing that third-world countries had much better “schizophrenia” recovery rates than in the US/UK?

            I bet those recovery rates are much much better third world, better then they admit to, one psychotic episode in the US say hello to psychiatric wasteland for a long time.

            I am still on the globalist NWO kick, its fun, that website is pretty good but it should explain how psychiatry and the DSM bible is their atheist ‘religion’ and part of their world plan.

            The online anti NWO crowd needs to be pointing psychiatry’s part in all this a little more.

            Just in America 10,000,000 drugged school children, that is absurd. So OK study other cultures and what they do, what we do aint right.

          • WE means those of us who are committed to the truth rather than dominance of the current elite.

            Another example: US outcomes for “ADHD”-diagnosed kids vs. Finland, where drugs are rarely used. No difference in outcomes. Stimulants do nothing to affect outcomes, and this study provides more proof that is the case.

            The real question is how to get this actual DATA through the screen of BS that those wishing to dominate the world are able to put out there as propaganda. When you figure that one out, let me know!

          • We are getting through the screen of BS but its so slow. We almost got real NWO screwed it was supposed to be Jeb Bush Vs Hillary Clinton.

            We are making a difference on the psychiatry front, I can tell by reading the 10 year old threads on those mental health forums and comparing them to the what people are saying now.

            Its just so slow.

LEAVE A REPLY