Thanks to George for sending along this fascinating link about a recent paper entitled "The weirdest people in the world?"authored by Joseph Henrich, Steven Heine, and Ara Norenzayan. I was able to find a copy of the paper here.
The core argument of the paper, based upon cross-cultural results examining how people play the Ultimatum Game or experience optical illusions, is that Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) people are, well, weird when compared to the rest of the world.
From Adam McDowell's National Post article about this research:
The article, titled "The weirdest people in the world?", appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family...Why are WEIRD people so weird? The researchers suspect that it's due to the how the brain has been affected and shaped by the Industrial Revolution:
After analyzing reams of data from earlier studies, the UBC team found that WEIRD people reacted differently from others in experiment after experiment involving measures of fairness, anti-social punishment and co-operation, as well as visual illusions and questions of individualism and conformity.
If WEIRD people are indeed weird, it is the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution that have made them so. In the example of the Muller-Lyer illusion, the UBC team hypothesizes that growing up in an industrial-era environment with plenty of 90-degree lines and carpentered edges led to WEIRD people's sense of vision being susceptible to the deception.All this raises a fascinating question: If the WEIRD mind has been "distorted" by the Industrial Revolution, how might this affect how WEIRD people think about God, faith, community and morality?
"We live in this world with police and institutions and pre-packaged food, TV, the Internet, watches and clocks and calendars. Our heads are loaded with all this information for navigating those environments. So we should expect our brains to be distorted," Dr. Henrich says.