the weirdest people in the world

I still can’t entirely wrap my head around this amazing article.

You’ve probably seen this illusion:

mlillusion (also called the Muller-Lyer illusion)

If you are like me, the line on the left probably looks LONGER to you than the line on the right. (The two lines are actually the same length). If you were like me you would further assume that this illusion has something to do with the way the human brain interprets the incoming information from the eyeball and think that this interpretation would hold steady for any and all human animals encountering the illusion. But as it turns out, perceiving the line on the left as the longer line actually suggests that you are:






Because in fact when people from a dozen different cultures were shown the illusion some saw the lines as they are–equal in length, and Americans saw the illusion more dramatically than all the other cultures.


From the article:

The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners—with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.


The very way we think about ourselves and others—and even the way we perceive reality—makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors. Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that “American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.”

Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.


What other certainties about “human nature” in social science research would need to be reconsidered when tested across diverse populations?

I need to spend a bit of time absorbing this; I’m not sure to what degree it may impact my thinking about user experience design and usability, but I suspect it will be increasingly relevant as our work becomes increasingly globalized (unless globalization will ultimately make the whole world weird?).

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