Culture and behavior

Are some differences in individuals' behavior--in the workplace or in the consumer space--the result of echoes of cultural activities and trends going back thousands of years? One team of researchers at the University of British Columbia argues that they are.

The team, lead by Joseph Henrich, wrote a paper titled "Weird People" that makes the case that broad findings about human psychology and behaviour are most often based on extremely narrow samples from Western societies. Furthermore, these sample pools, drawn from highly educated elements of society, are in fact outliers that do not represent the majority of humanity. It goes on to caution making assertions about "human nature" based on data collected from narrow subject pool, and to recommend using broader subject pools in future research.

Members of Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans."

Henrich employs tests based on game theory, and his results gathered from subject pools across the globe show startling differences in baseline behaviors. This Pacific Standard profile of his team's work notes that it is part of a "small but growing countertrend in the social sciences, one in which researchers look straight at the question of how deeply culture shapes human cognition," and cites some other interesting exploration in this area.

These questions have potentially profound implications for work related to organizational culture and consumer demand, and we may just be at the starting point in this type of research.

-- Jia Yan Toh

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