Our WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) side (Event 2-076, moderated by Jeffrey Arnett with panelists Steven Heine, Heidi Keller, and Robert Serpell).

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According to Dr. Heine, we generalize great truths in social psychology from the highly atypical population of American undergrads.  According to Dr. Keller, we promulgate attachment theory among cultures with radically different conceptualizations of parenting.  According to Dr. Serpell, we can have a "white university" even with 40% minority students if our academic culture remains rooted in the myth of European cultural superiority. According to Dr. Arnett, our scholarly discourse aims for absolute truths conferred with authority in a world that mostly recognizes contextual truths agreed upon in community.  In short, we're WEIRD.

Presentations focused on how inclusion of international, cross-cultural points of view can stretch our positive impact and the boundaries of our knowledge.  Dr. Serpell shared that, when he was teaching in Zambia during the advent of information processing, he could not use the familiar metaphor of the brain as a computer because most students had no exposure to computers.  When he went to research intelligence, he had to go back to the fundamental principles of what we mean by intelligence to create a fully culturally relevant measure.

Dr. Arnett asked what would have to change about our training and philosophy of science.  Making all psychology students take a class in anthropology was one idea.  When they suggested sending students abroad for a semester, I thought of how my alma mater already does that with foreign language students.  Sending psychology students abroad would be a nice acknowledgement of how, for psychology to be a universal language, it must also be, to a significant degree, a foreign language.

To the question of what would have to change about our philosophy of science my first thought (which did not, admittedly, answer the question) was from research on sexual minorities.  This field did a lot with gay vs. straight differences at its inception and then gradually opened up to a more complex concept of sexual orientation, letting go of the essential "gay."  My doctoral advisor and my article on the dimensionality of sexual orientation in terms of attraction, dating, behavior, and identity (Savin-Williams & Ream, 2007) has been cited frequently since it first appeared.  However, segments of the high-risk sexual minority population I work with now in New York City do not really even acknowledge sexual identity, and their behavior has meaning in context (and that meaning has relevance to reducing their HIV risk) that a panel data article could not have hoped to conceptualize.  The inclusive concept of "queer" that we threw around at Cornell is not salient to this population.  Apparently, even "queer" is WEIRD.