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Research on human behaviour and psychology must include a broader selection of study subjects, say psychology experts Joseph Henrich and colleagues.

There is increasing evidence that human behaviour differs across populations in analytic reasoning, fairness cooperation and memory. For example, while Americans, Canadians and western Europeans rely on analytical reasoning, Asians tend to reason holistically.

These differences stem from cultural and environmental diversity, say the authors.

And yet, research on human behaviour and psychology often generalises findings based on studies using subjects from Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies.

This can have important practical consequences, say the authors. For example, economic policy based on theories of decision-making built from psychology ignores the fact that populations vary considerably in the extent to which they display biases, patterns and preferences in economic decisions.

The authors offer suggestions for improving the empirical strength of human behaviour and psychology. These include encouraging editors to push researchers to use evidence to support their generalisations, ensuring that granting agencies prioritise cross-cultural research, rewarding scientists for comparing diverse subject pools, and making researchers strive to evaluate how their findings apply to non-WEIRD populations.

A longer-term goal is to create a set of principles to help researchers distinguish between variable and universal aspects of psychology. But the authors say this goal will remain elusive until behavioural scientists develop interdisciplinary and international research networks for long-term studies on diverse populations.

Link to full article in Nature

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