WEIRD: How Westerners Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous

Friday, January 18, 2019 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm

402 Claudia Cohen Hall


Joseph Henrich

Professor and Chair

Human Evolutionary Biology Department

Harvard University

Author of The Secret of Our Success

Abstract: An accumulating body of evidence now reveals not only substantial global variation along several important psychological dimensions, including conformity, individualism, moral judgment, guilt, patience, trust and analytic thinking, but also that people from societies that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) are particularly unusual, typically anchoring the ends of global psychological distributions. Here, to explain these patterns, I first show how the most fundamental of human institutions—those governing marriage and family—influence our motivations, perceptions, intuitions and emotions. Then, to explain the peculiar trajectory of European societies over the second millennium, I lay out how one particular branch of Christianity—the Western Catholic Church—systematically dismantled the intensive kin-based institutions in much of Latin Christendom, effectively altering people’s psychology and opening the door to new forms of voluntary organizations (charter towns, universities, guilds, monasteries), impersonal markets and eventually modern organizational competition. These psychological and social changes set the stage for the rise of democratic governments, the success of Protestantism and the relentless innovation that fueled the industrial revolution.

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