The WEIRDest People in the World | Joseph Henrich

Summary of: The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous
By: Joseph Henrich


Embark on a fascinating journey through time with Joseph Henrich’s ‘The WEIRDest People in the World’, which examines the evolution of the Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) psychological profile. Contrasted with their kin-based, non-WEIRD counterparts, Western societies chose to prioritize the individual, shaping modern government, urbanization, and cultural innovation. In this summary, you will explore the profound psychological impact of literacy, witness how cultural evolution strengthens social norms, and learn about the powerful influence the Western Church had on the development of WEIRD psychology.

The Psychology of Cultural Evolution

Anthropologist Joseph Henrich explores the WEIRD psychological profile – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic – and its impact on cultural evolution. The West’s unique emphasis on individualism, literacy, and voluntary group membership sparked urbanization, modern government, industrialization, and innovation. Henrich combines extensive research with historical narratives to offer a fascinating study on the psychological “dark matter” that drives cultural evolution.

The WEIRD Psychology

Psychologists have long studied the Western mind without considering the impact of their subjects being overwhelmingly European or of European descent, known as WEIRD people. WEIRD individuals highly value individualism, self-obsession, control, and nonconformity, and are more likely to feel guilty than shameful. Non-WEIRD cultures, on the other hand, prioritize social interdependence, conformity, and values of their communities. They prioritize “other-esteem” and care about how their communities value them. A positive-sum worldview can lead to the spread of beliefs about human progress.

The Power of Literacy

The course of world dominance was expected to be led by Chinese or Islamic societies around 1000 CE, but Europeans conquered much of the world from 1500, primarily due to literacy. Literacy changes the biology and psychology of individuals without altering their genetic code, improving communication between brain hemispheres, expanding memory, and promoting analytical thinking instead of holistic thinking. In summary, literacy revolutionized human evolution.

The Evolution of Social Norms

Humans acquire most of their behavior by observing others, creating implicit knowledge, and reinforcing social norms that arise from cultural evolution. Cultural evolution fosters competition and tribal alliances that influence the development of shared values, institutionalization and national identity over time.

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