This is important beyond being a simple descriptive acronym because the vast majority of psychology experiments - the ones aimed at finding the universal truth about human behaviour - are based on us. The trouble is that "96% of behavioural science experiment subjects are from Western industrialized countries, which account for just 12% of the world's population."
So why aren't we a good ruler with which to measure all of humanity?
Adam McDowell writes in the National Post about the findings of University of British Columbia researcher Joseph Henrich and his colleagues. Their research shows that we in the West are the odd ones.
Henrich and colleagues used an experiment called the Ultimatum Game, a test of altruism, and found that we Westerners do things differently than almost every other culture worldwide. Here's how the game is played:
The Ultimatum Game works like this: You are given $100 and asked to share it with someone else. You can offer that person any amount and if he accepts the offer, you each get to keep your share. If he rejects your offer, you both walk away empty-handed.North Americans typically offer more than people from other cultures. We also reject higher offers more often as well. How we play the Ultimatum Game makes us the weird ones.
Henrich's work has far-reaching implications because so much behavioural research is based on us. And it goes far beyond the fact that all cultures are different. Most other cultures are the same in how they play the game, and we are different, which is not a problem unless one is trying to make universal claims about human behaviour based on us.
Understandably, there is some negative reaction to these findings: we don't like to be told that we are weird. Westerners have for centuries seen themselves as the "norm" against which all others are measured.
Our W.E.I.R.D. culture may well be superior in some ways. Our culture may well be inferior in others. The research is not a judgement about the West.
When it comes to any "norm," we are not the world. When it comes to joining with the rest of the world to help each other, we are all the world.
We are the world for Pakistan and Haiti.