A new method for measuring how cultural differences influence human psychology has been devised by researchers from LSE, Harvard University, Iowa State University and the University of Utah.
Decades of psychological research designed to uncover truths about human psychology may have instead uncovered truths about a thin slice of our species – those who live in Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (WEIRD) nations. Until now there existed no systematic method for determining which societies will provide useful comparisons or even the size of the psychological differences—the cultural distance—between societies.
A new paper, Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance, in Psychological Science, measures how culturally distant countries are from one another.
It states: “Just how psychologically different are the nations of the world compared to each other and to the over-scrutinized United States? Many hard drives have been filled with the ways in which China and Japan differ from the United States and Canada, but just how psychologically distant is the culture of China from Japan, the United States from Canada, or Azerbaijan from Zambia? Here we introduce a robust method for quantifying this distance...”
Michael Muthukrishna, lead author and Assistant Professor in Economic Psychology at LSE added: “Cultural psychology is not the difference between China and the U.S.—it’s the difference between societies all over the world, who differ within countries, classes, and education.”
Using a statistical technique commonly used in genetics to measure, for example, how genetically different two fish populations in different ponds are, the researchers quantified culture. These cultural distances predicted everything from personality to norm adherence, blood donation rates, honesty, and corruption.
This tool is helping researchers understand the cultural differences that challenge integration of the European Union, the welfare of migrant populations, how cultural diversity affects innovation, failures in transplanting democratic institutions, and political uprisings in places such as Hong Kong. Hong Kong citizens are culturally Chinese, but also culturally British.
Researchers are now looking at how this technique can be used to quantify corporate culture.