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The WEIRDest People in the World: How the…
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The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically… (original 2020; edição 2020)

por Joseph Henrich

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Título:The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous
Autores:Joseph Henrich
Informação:Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Kindle Edition, 704 pages
Colecções:A sua biblioteca

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The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous por Joseph Henrich (2020)

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WEIRD stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. This is a long and fascinating book with tons of references to interesting research that I could only gesture vaguely at even in a long review. Basically, Henrich argues that a society’s organization can change individual brains, which then can change the society further. These changes mean that memory works differently for different groups, as does visual processing and facial recognition, and he argues that they can also explain big differences in moral reasoning, such as the relative importance of guilt v. shame in controlling behavior. Westerners are more likely than non-Westerners to participate in punishing someone who has broken norms but not personally harmed them, and less likely to seek revenge against someone who has personally harmed them. Also, fundamental attribution error—attributing behavior to character rather than circumstance—turns out to be fundamental only to the WEIRD; non-Westerners are more likely to explain behavior by pointing to an individual’s circumstances. We are more subject to the endowment effect (valuing things more because we deem them ours), we value having choices more, and we overestimate our own talents more.

Why? The book argues that the West, for whatever reason (Henrich doesn’t speculate), largely adopted a particular kind of monotheism that promoted monogamy; discouraged concentration of power in kin groups because they stood as counterweights to Church power; enforced monogamy so that powerful men couldn’t have multiple wives; and ultimately promoted individualism, which led to things like literacy and non-kin affinity networks such as coreligionists and political parties. “How many people do you personally know who married their cousins? If you know none, that’s WEIRD, since 1 in 10 marriages around the world today is to a cousin or other relative.” (A country’s rate of cousin marriage turns out to correlate with a lot of these other things, like generalized trust, rate of blood donations, and even how many parking tickets a UN delegation gets.) Less kin-based societies developed other mechanisms of social control, focusing on individual behavior and punishing defectors without getting into revenge cycles.

As a result, Westerners became psychologically distinct from other groups. Among other things, we are more likely than non-Westerners to be trusting of strangers, to favor testifying truthfully that our friends committed a crime over lying to protect them, and otherwise to favor large structures over close kin groups. There are similar differences within Western society, so areas that became Protestant early on are even more WEIRD in these ways than areas that were or stayed Catholic, and so too with immigrants’ children; “people in North Dakota and New Hampshire are the most trusting, with around 60 percent of people generally trusting others; meanwhile, at the other end, only about 20 percent of people are generally trusting in Alabama and Mississippi.” This dynamic isn’t unique to Christianity; Heinrich argues that similar patterns can be discerned in groups from India and China which developed in more or less kin-oriented directions.

There is a lot of fascinating stuff, including the effect of individualism on walking speed in crowded cities. What there is not is much discussion of the meaning of percentages and proportions. So, Westerners are a lot more likely than non-Westerners to trust strangers … but that means that there are a lot of untrusting Westerners and trusting non-Westerners. (Likewise: Peer pressure is powerful, and studies show that when an experimenter’s confederates give obviously wrong answers to objective questions, a number of people often go with the majority despite being unhappy and uncomfortable doing so—from 20% in highly individualistic societies to 40-50% in highly communal societies—which is a big change, but not a complete one.) This complexity also extends to the race/class/gender differences washed away in much of this discussion—Western trust is often limited to those who match the right profile, which is a very different thing from generalized trust although also a very different thing from “I only trust my close kin.” Because Henrich is interested in dynamic processes, he argues that there is an inherent pressure to trust (etc.) larger and larger groups once the process of leaving kin behind begins, so that’s how you get people who agree that all human people have valid moral claims on one another. But how we get there, and how far we are from there, matters, especially given that it seems that trust is declining in the West and that many people are willing to prey economically and politically on the (often racialized) trust that exists.

I’m not even getting into his discussions of the varying effects of testosterone depending on society/the presence of polygamy; the variances in behavior of WEIRD and non-WEIRD people competing within a group versus competing among groups; the psychological effects of war (which 18th century Europe experienced pretty constantly). He is not a genetic determinist. For creativity, for example, he argues that exposure to different sources of knowledge drives innovation far more than anything we could call “natural” intelligence. And in the key centuries, he argues, European cities were pretty much deathtraps requiring a constant inflow of rural migrants, meaning that natural selection is not a good explanation for WEIRD psychology. ( )
  rivkat | Jul 19, 2021 |
didn't finish because i had to return it to the library--will try again later
  ritaer | Apr 16, 2021 |
Was a lot more interesting than the gimmicky suggested. The theories go a bit far on pretty flimsy grounds but raises many great points. Still, you get sick of hearing about the smug protestants pretty quickly. ( )
  Paul_S | Dec 23, 2020 |
The inspiration for this book is that 70% of studies on the subject of “universal human nature” use western undergraduate students as their sample. The reason for this is self-evident (convenience), yet it’s implausible that western undergraduates are representative of the whole of humanity. When the author looks at some of the few studies (and conducts several of his own) including other populations, many of these “universal” features become far more variable. Of particular attention is the degree of willingness to trust strangers (i.e. impersonal relationships).

He traces this divergence back a thousand years, to the imposition of Catholic family structure in Europe – something that did not occur elsewhere. This transformed the way that people viewed each other (especially viz in-groups and out-groups) and led to association being voluntary rather than innate. The result is that westerners’ worldview is more individual than non-westerners, who tend to be more group-oriented. The same dynamics exist in other contexts; for example, he cites the divergent social dynamics in rice and wheat farmers in China – or, more precisely, in their descendants. While not at all innate, these are quite culturally durable.

I liked that he was able to describe these concepts without an air of superiority; i.e. there was no prescription about how one or the other must “fix” their culture to “overcome” limitations, or similar that often accompanies such studies. On the other hand, I think he glosses over the role that many “pre-assigned voluntary associations” (my term) play in contemporary identity, i.e. nationalism – recognizing that, although these can be changed, such a change is difficult and rare. ( )
  jarlalex | Nov 25, 2020 |
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Your brain has been altered, neurologically rewired as it acquired a skill that your society greatly values.
Informação do Conhecimento Comum em inglês. Edite para a localizar na sua língua.
Your brain has been altered, neurologically rewired as it acquired a skill that your society greatly values. Until recently, this skill was of little or no use and most people in most societies never acquired it. In developing this ability, you have:


Specialized an area of your brain's left ventral occipito-temporal region, which lies between your language, object, and face processing centers.

Thickened your corpus callosum, which is the information highway that connects the left and right hemispheres of your brain.

Altered the part of your prefontal cortex that is involved in language production (Broca's area) as well as other brain areas engaged in a variety of neurological tasks, including both speech processing and thinking about others' minds.

Improved your verbal memory and broadened your brain's activation when processing speech.

Shifted your facial recognition process to the right hemisphere. Normal humans (not you) process faces almost equally on the left and right sides of their brains, but those with your peculiar skill are biased toward the right hemisphere.

6. Diminished your ability to identify faces, probably because while jury-rigging your left ventral occipito-temporal region, you impinged on an area that usually specializes in facial recognition.

Reduced your default tendency toward holistic visual processing in favor of more analytical processing You now rely more on breaking scenes and objects down into their component parts and less on broad configurations and gestalt patterns.

What is this mental ability? What capacity could have renovated your brain, endowing you with new, specialized skills as well as inducing specific cognitive defects?

The exotic mental ability is reading. You are likely highly literate.
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