A few years ago, we ended up trading some classroom space in the Physics part of the building to Psychology, which was renovated into lab space for two of their new(ish) hires. This turned out to be a huge boon not only for the department (the lab space we got in the swap is really very nice), but for our majors. Most of the psychology experiments on campus use student volunteers, and pay a small amount to boost participation. Since the new psych labs were right next to the physics student lounge, our majors were taking part in four or five studies each, and racking up the study participation fees.
We had a couple of really big classes at the time, so I used to tease the psychologists that their results were going to be so completely dominated by nerdy white guys as to be utterly useless. While I doubt the specific studies in question had much effect on psychology as a whole, there’s a nice blog post at Ionian Enchantment arguing that the situation in our building is just an extreme example of a very general problem for psychology in general:
The authors of the paper, Canadian psychologists Joseph Henrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan, argue that most experimental subjects in the behavioral sciences are WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic – and thus weird – not representative of most human beings. And this, if true, is a very serious problem indeed. Behavioral scientists (anthropologists, psychologists, behavioral economists and so on) are often interested in explaining the brains, minds and behavior of Homo sapiens as a species. (Some scientists, of course, are only interested in understanding specific cultures or what makes us different, but one important goal of the behavioral sciences has long been to explain universal human behavior). As evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides have put it, they “seek to characterize the universal, species-typical architecture of [the information-processing mechanisms that generate behavior]”.
But… Henrich and his colleagues review a large body of literature that seems to show that, across several domains, Western undergraduates – the workhorses of the behavioral sciences – are extreme outliers. In other words, if they are correct, most of the data behavioral scientists have used to test hypothesis and to drive theorizing derives from subjects who are possibly the least suited for generalizing about the human race.
Not being a psychologist, I don’t have much to add to this, but it struck me as interesting. The original research articles are linked from the post, as well, if you’d like to track down the details.