Newsflash: Westerners Don't Think About Sharing Like the Rest of the World

by Kate Sedgwick Aug 28, 2010

A recent article in Financial Times, ‘Westerners vs. the World: We are the WEIRD ones’, reveals that the Westerners’ ideas about fairness and sharing differ vastly from the rest of the world.

What we view as human nature is learned behavior that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily subscribe to.

The University of British Columbia’s Joseph Henrich took a game to the Peruvian Amazon to play with the Machiguenga people.

The game is played like this:

One person is offered $100. They are only entitled to a portion of that money if they offer another portion to someone else. If the person offered the ‘cut’ of the initial amount refuses, neither gets anything.

Westerners generally offer something close to half the money. And the people they offer it to (obviously other Westerners) will often refuse if they feel they’ve been lowballed, causing both parties to lose out.

This is seen as bizarre to other people from the Amazon to China and is far from the only comparative study. It turns out that Westerners even see differently, in one case unable to un-see an optical illusion they know to be false while people of the Kalahari Desert see no illusion at all.

This is especially important when thinking of the volumes of information that make up the bulk of research defining psychology, human behavior, and human nature culled from Western subjects. If you want to have your perceptions of normalcy challenged, ‘Westerners vs. the World: We are the WEIRD ones’ might just do that.

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