A New York Times Notable Book of 2020
A bold, epic account of how the co-evolution of psychology and culture created the peculiar Western mind that has profoundly shaped the modern world.
Perhaps you are WEIRD: raised in a society that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. If so, you’re rather psychologically peculiar.
Unlike much of the world today, and most people who have ever lived, WEIRD people are highly individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. They focus on themselves—their attributes, accomplishments, and aspirations—over their relationships and social roles. How did WEIRD populations become so psychologically distinct? What role did these psychological differences play in the industrial revolution and the global expansion of Europe during the last few centuries?
In The WEIRDest People in the World, Joseph Henrich draws on cutting-edge research in anthropology, psychology, economics, and evolutionary biology to explore these questions and more. He illuminates the origins and evolution of family structures, marriage, and religion, and the profound impact these cultural transformations had on human psychology. Mapping these shifts through ancient history and late antiquity, Henrich reveals that the most fundamental institutions of kinship and marriage changed dramatically under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church. It was these changes that gave rise to the WEIRD psychology that would coevolve with impersonal markets, occupational specialization, and free competition—laying the foundation for the modern world.
Provocative and engaging in both its broad scope and its surprising details, The WEIRDest People in the World explores how culture, institutions, and psychology shape one another, and explains what this means for both our most personal sense of who we are as individuals and also the large-scale social, political, and economic forces that drive human history.
Includes black-and-white illustrations.
Henrich (The Secret of Our Success), a psychology and economics professor, proposes a grand thesis about how the cultures he identifies as WEIRD "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic" came to be so, in this ambitious and fascinating book. The acronym is intentional, to signal that the cultural experience and individualistic mindset of countries such as the U.S. and U.K. are historically unusual. The first major shift Henrich identifies occurred in medieval Europe, as traditional kin-based loyalties were weakened by the intellectual and cultural dominance of the Roman Catholic Church. In his view, the later emergence of representative democracy wasn't due to "an intellectual epiphany" but to the experience of those people in the late Middle Ages who "began to form competing voluntary associations" and thus became more open to viewing themselves as individuals. Henrich also explores the persistent distinction in mindset between individualistic and communal societies, based on psychological studies conducted by himself and colleagues. For example, people in individualistic societies more often reported experiencing guilt, concerning how one views oneself, while those in communal societies more often felt shame, concerning how one is viewed by other people. This meaty book is ready-made for involved discussions.