The Atlantic

How a Focus on Rich Educated People Skews Brain Studies

Neuroimaging studies have traditionally scanned a thin and unrepresentative slice of humanity—but that’s changing.
Source: Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters

In 1986, the social psychologist David Sears warned his colleagues that their habit of almost exclusively studying college students was producing a strange and skewed portrait of human nature. He was neither the first to make that critique, nor the last: Decades later, other psychologists noted that social sciences tended to focus on people from WEIRD societies—that is, Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. The results of such studies are often taken to represent humanity at large, even though their participants are drawn from a “particularly thin and rather unusual slice” of it.

The same concerns have been raised in virtually every area of science that involves people. Geneticists have learned more about the DNA of people in Europe and North America than those , where . The so-called Human Microbiome Project was really the Urban-American Microbiome Project, given that its participants were almost entirely from St. Louis and Houston.

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