128 | Joseph Henrich on the Weirdness of the West

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We all know stereotypes about people from different countries; but we also recognize that there really are broad cultural differences between people who grow up in different societies. This raises a challenge when most psychological research is performed on a narrow and unrepresentative slice of the world’s population — a subset that has accurately been labeled as WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic). Joseph Henrich has argued that focusing on this group has led to systematic biases in how we think about human psychology. In his new book, he proposes a surprising theory for how WEIRD people got that way, based on the Church insisting on the elimination of marriage to relatives. It’s an audacious idea that nudges us to rethink how the WEIRD world came to be.

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Joseph Henrich received his Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA. He is currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. Among his awards are a Fulbright scholarship, a Presidential Early Career Award, the Killam Research Prize, and the Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize. His trade books include The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smart, and the new The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous.

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