We Aren’t the World

We shape a tool in a certain manner, adhere to a food taboo, or think about fairness in a particular way, not because we individually have figured out that behavior’s adaptive value, but because we instinctively trust our culture to show us the way.


This article is concerned with explaining the connection between differences within perceptions of reality and diverse cultural backgrounds. It is also calling attention to the the fact that the Western culture is overrepresented in scientific research; therefore, the universality of some research needs to be questioned.

Müller-Lyer illusionMüller-Lyer illusion

The different ways people perceive the Müller-Lyer illusion likely reflects lifetimes spent in different physical environments. American children, for the most part, grow up in box-shaped rooms of varying dimensions. … The more time one spends in natural environments where there are no carpentered corners, the less one sees the illusion.

Article: Pacific Standard 25.02.13 – Ethan Watters

2 responses to “We Aren’t the World

  1. Reblogged this on Prospective Mind and commented:
    “And here is the rub: the culturally shaped analytic/individualistic mind-sets may partly explain why Western researchers have so dramatically failed to take into account the interplay between culture and cognition. In the end, the goal of boiling down human psychology to hardwiring is not surprising given the type of mind that has been designing the studies. Taking an object (in this case the human mind) out of its context is, after all, what distinguishes the analytic reasoning style prevalent in the West. Similarly, we may have underestimated the impact of culture because the very ideas of being subject to the will of larger historical currents and of unconsciously mimicking the cognition of those around us challenges our Western conception of the self as independent and self-determined. The historical missteps of Western researchers, in other words, have been the predictable consequences of the WEIRD mind doing the thinking.”

    There is a lot of over-extrapolation from research going on in many, many areas of psychology from neuroscience to social psychology. The most disappointing is that there isn’t much cross-subject talk even within psychology. If different fields began to communicate, we may be able to put together a more well-rounded and humble opinion on the topic. However, one reason this doesn’t occur may be that psychologists and researchers in the US may be far too worried about their own reputation, their own career to make the time for this communication. Many are tied to academia, having to worry about 10-year professorship, others tied to an organization with, perhaps, an agenda or a specific goal and deadline. There are probably numerous reasons, historically, educationally, and culturally, but unless we begin to learn these lessons now, there will be much higher consequences for our scientific-egoism, so to speak. Namely that researchers highly affect public opinion. And who knows what will happen when individuals begin to internalize so-called ‘universal and factual’ scientific findings.

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