I think we can recover from the article linked to below an interesting and possibly new fallacy. It’s the fallacy of inferring that a trait is universal from the fact that it is found in college studients in WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich) societies. We can call it the Weird fallacy.
An article forthcoming in Brains and Behavioral Sciences:
“The Weirdest People in the World?”
Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan
Abstract (short): Broad claims about human psychology and behavior based on narrow samples from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies are regularly published in leading journals. Are such species-generalizing claims justified? This review suggests not only that substantial variability in experimental results emerges across populations in basic domains, but that WEIRD subjects are in fact rather unusual compared with the rest of the species-frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, categorization, spatial cognition, memory, moral reasoning and self-concepts. This review (1) indicates caution in addressing questions of human nature based on this thin slice of humanity, and (2) suggests that understanding human psychology will require tapping broader subject pools. We close by proposing ways to address these challenges.
Here’s the article; you might find the authors claim there are more universals than you want, but it is still interesting.
If you’ve followed discussions of modularity and vision, you might want to know that the news about early vision is less of a surprise than the article appears to suggest. Hard-wired settings may be post-natal and depend on the environment. On the other hand, things they agree are found in most human beings – e.g., passing the false belief test – have much more age variability than I at least had heard of. And the experimental work on fairness – very recently presented in the NY Times as culturally invariant – show a lot of cross-cultural variation. And there’s more.
See what you think!