Item Details



Journal: Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Cognitive Studies Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/jcsr.38413


Reliance on convenience samples for psychological experiments has led to the oversampling of Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) populations (Henrich et al. 2010a). Our analysis of academic articles from six leading psychology journals revealed a significantly lower but still very high percentage of studies from European and English-speaking nations (92%), compared to a decade ago (95%), largely due to more studies from Asia (6%). Further analysis of four cognitive science of religion (CSR) journals showed how a more representative field is possible (67% from the Western and Other region), with proportionately more studies in Latin America (4%) and Africa (7%) than psychology (<1% each). Thanks to its interdisciplinary nature, CSR is in a good position to address “WEIRD” problems and may be able to offer psychology methodological and epistemological tools that involve diversifying sample populations, increasing ecological validity, capturing the causes and consequences of cultural variation, and developing novel methodologies. Despite the challenges, we encourage more researchers to embrace the lessons offered by CSR’s history of global and interdisciplinary research. Where WEIRD identifies the populations we need to stop privileging, conducting work that is not just Worldwide, but also In Situ, Local, and Diverse (WILD) is what researchers themselves can aspire to. Just as nineteenth century “armchair anthropologists” were replaced by generations of ethnographers who went out into the real world to study human variation, so modern day psychologists need to conduct experiments outside the lab with suitably heterogeneous populations.

Author: Martha Newson, Michael Buhrmester, Dimitris Xygalatas, Harvey Whitehouse

View Full Text

References :

Arnett, J. Jeffrey. 2008. “The Neglected 95%: Why American Psychology Needs to Become Less American.” American Psychologist 63(7): 602614.

Atkinson, D. Quentin and Harvey Whitehouse. 2011. “The Cultural Morphospace of Ritual Form: Examining Modes of Religiosity Cross-Culturally.” Evolution and Human Behavior 32(1): 5062.

Atran, Scott. 2002. In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Atran, Scott, Douglas L. Medin and Norbert O. Ross. 2005. “The Cultural Mind: Environmental Decision Making and Cultural Modeling Within and Across Populations.” Psychological Review 112(4): 744776.

Barrett, H. Clark, and Tanya Behne. 2005. “Children’s Understanding of Death as the Cessation of Agency: A Test Using Sleep Versus Death.” Cognition 96(2): 93108.

Barrett, L. Justin. 1998. “Cognitive Constraints on Hindu Concepts of the Divine.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37(4): 608619.

———. 2007. “Cognitive Science of Religion: What is it and Why is it?” Religion Compass 1(6): 768786.

Beller, Sieghard, Andrea Bender and Douglas L. Medin. 2012. “Should Anthropology Be Part of Cognitive Science?” Topics in Cognitive Science 4(3): 342-353.

Berry, W. John. 1989. “Imposed Etics – Emics – Derived Etics: The Operationalization of a Compelling Idea.” International Journal of Psychology 24(2-6): 721735.

Boas, Franz. 1982 [1930]. “Some Problems of Methodology in the Social Sciences.” In Race, Language, and Culture, edited by Franz Boas, 260269. Chicago: Chicago Press.

Boster, James. 2011. “Data, Method and Interpretation in Cognitive Anthropology.” In A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology, edited by David B. Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor C. de Munck and Michael D. Fisher, 131152. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.


Boyer, Pascal. 1992. “Explaining Religious Ideas: Elements of a Cognitive Approach.” Numen 39(1): 2757.

Boyer, Pascal and Charles Ramble. 2001. “Cognitive Templates for Religious Concepts: Cross‐Cultural Evidence for Recall of Counter‐Intuitive Representations.” Cognitive Science 25(4): 535564.

Briones, M. Elizabeth and Grant Benham. 2017. “An Examination of the Equivalency of Self-Report Measures Obtained from Crowdsourced Versus Undergraduate Student Samples.” Behavior Research Methods 49(1): 320334.

Buhrmester, D. Michael, Sanaz Talaifar and Samuel D. Gosling. 2018. “An Evaluation of the Rapid Rise of MTurk and Recommendations for its Effective Use.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 13(2): 149154.

Bulbulia, A. Joseph, Dimitris Xygalatas, Uffe Schjoedt, Sabela Fondevila, Chris G. Sibley et al. 2013. “Images from a Jointly-Arousing Collective Ritual Reveal Affective Polarization.” Frontiers in Psychology 4: 111.

Casler, Krista, Lydia Bickel and Elizabeth Hackett. 2013. “Separate But Equal? A Comparison of Participants and Data Gathered via Amazon’s MTurk, Social Media, and Face-to-Face Behavioral Testing.” Computers in Human Behavior 29(6): 21562160.

Cicourel, V. Aaron. 1996. “Ecological Validity and ‘White Room Effects’: The Interaction of Cognitive and Cultural Models in the Pragmatic Analysis of Elicited Narratives From Children.” Pragmatics & Cognition 4(2): 221264.

Cohen, Emma. 2007. The Mind Possessed: The Cognition of Spirit Possession in an Afro-Brazilian Religious Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cole, Michael, Lois Hood and Ray McDermott. 1994. Ecological Niche Picking: Ecological Invalidity as an Axiom of Experimental Cognitive Psychology. New York: Rockefeller University.

de Oliveira, Stephanie and Richard E. Nisbett. 2017. “Culture Changes How We Think about Thinking: From ‘Human Inference’ to ‘Geography of Thought’.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 12(5): 782790.

Ember, R. Carol, and Christine M. Cunnar. 2015. “Children’s Play and Work: The Relevance of Cross-Cultural Ethnographic Research for Archaeologists.” Childhood in the Past 8(2): 87103.

Fessler, Daniel. 2004. “Shame in Two Cultures: Implications for Evolutionary Approaches.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 4(2): 207262.

Finkel, J. Eli, Paul W. Eastwick and Harry T. Reis. 2017. “Replicability and Other Features of a Highquality Science: Toward a Balanced and Empirical Approach.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 113(2): 244253.

Fischer, S. Claude. 1984. The Urban Experience. 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Fischer, Ronald, Dimitris Xygalatas, Panagiotis Mitkidis, Paul Reddish, Penny Tok et al. 2014. “The Fire-Walker’s High: Affect and Physiological Responses in an Extreme Collective Ritual.” PloS ONE 9(2): e88355.

Friedman, Harris. 2009. “Xenophilia as a Cultural Trap: Bridging the Gap between Transpersonal Psychology and Religious/Spiritual Traditions.” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 28(1): 107111.

Gainsbury, M. Sally, Alex Russell and Alex Blaszczynski. 2014. “Are Psychology University Student Gamblers Representative of Non-University Students and General Gamblers? A Comparative Analysis.” Journal of Gambling Studies 30(1): 1125.

Geertz, W. Armin. 2004. “Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion”. In New Approaches to the Study of Religion. Vol 2, Textual, Comparative, Sociological, and Cognitive Approaches, edited by Peter Antes, Armin W. Geertz and Randi R. Warne, 347399. Berlin: Walter deGruyter.

Geertz, W. Armin, ed. 2014. Origins of Religion, Cognition and Culture. London; Abingdon: Routledge.

Gelfand, J. Michele, Jesse R. Harrington and Joshua C. Jackson. 2017. “The Strength of Social Norms across Human Groups.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 12(5): 800809.

Gervais, M. Will, Dimitris Xygalatas, Ryan T. McKay, Michiel van Elk, Emma E. Buchtel et al. 2017. “Global Evidence of Extreme Intuitive Moral Prejudice against Atheists.” Nature Human Behaviour 1(8): 16.

Gibson, A. Mhairi, and Ruth Mace. 2007. “Polygyny, Reproductive Success and Child Health in Rural Ethiopia: Why Marry a Married Man?” Journal of Biosocial Science 39(2): 287300.

Graham, Jesse, Peter Meindl, Erica Beall, Kate M. Johnson and Li Zhang. 2016. “Cultural Differences in Moral Judgment and Behavior, across and within Societies.” Current Opinion in Psychology 8: 125130.

Greenfield, M. Patricia. 2017. “Cultural Change Over Time: Why Replicability Should Not Be the Gold Standard in Psychological Science”. Perspectives on Psychological Science 12(5): 762771.


Guthrie, Stewart, Joseph Agassi, Karin R. Andriolo, David Buchdahl, H. Byron Earhart et al. 1980. “A Cognitive Theory of Religion [and Comments and Reply].” Current Anthropology 21(2): 181203.

Hanel, H. Paul, Katia C. Vione and Martin Voracek. 2016. “Do Student Samples Provide an Accurate Estimate of the General Public?” PloS one 11(12): e0168354.

Heine, J. Steven. 2008. Cultural Psychology. New York: W. W. Norton.

Henrich, Joseph, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan. 2010a. “Beyond WEIRD: Towards a Broad-Based Behavioral Science.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33(2-3): 111135.

———. 2010b. “The Weirdest People in the World?” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3): 6183.

Hill, C. Peter, and Kenneth Pargament. 2008. “Advances in the Conceptualization and Measurement of Religion and Spirituality: Implications for Physical and Mental Health Research.” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality S(1): 317.

Hood, W. Ralph Jr., Peter C. Hill and Bernard Spilka. 2018. The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. Fifth edition. New York; London: Guilford.

Hutchins, Edwin. 1995. Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Inbar, Yoel. 2016. “Association Between Contextual Dependence and Replicability in Psychology May Be Spurious.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113(34): E4933-4.

Kagitcibasi, Cigdem. 2017. “Doing Psychology with a Cultural Lens: A Half-Century Journey.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 12(5): 824832.

Kavanagh, M. Christopher, Jonathan Jong, Ryan McKay and Harvey Whitehouse. 2018. “Positive Experiences of High Arousal Martial Arts Rituals Are Linked to Identity Fusion and Costly Pro‐Group Actions.” European Journal of Social Psychology 49(3): 461481.

Keith, G. Melissa and Peter D. Harms. 2016. “Is Mechanical Turk the Answer to Our Sampling Woes?” Industrial and Organizational Psychology 9(1): 162167.

Keller, Heidi. 2017. “Culture and Development: A Systematic Relationship.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 12(5): 833840.

Klein, A. Richard, Kate A. Ratliff, Michelangelo Vianello, Reginald B. Adams, Jr., Stepán Bahník et al. 2014. “Investigating Variation in Replicability: A ‘Many Labs’ Replication Project.” Social Psychology 45(3): 142152.


Knight, Nicola, Paulo Sousa, Justin L. Barrett and Scott Atran. 2004. “Children’s Attributions of Beliefs to Humans and God: Cross‐Cultural Evidence.” Cognitive Science 28(1): 117126.

Konvalinka, Ivana, Dimitris Xygalatas, Joseph Bulbulia, Uffe Schjødt, Else-Marie Jegindø et al. 2011. “Synchronized Arousal Between Performers and Related Spectators in a Fire-Walking Ritual.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(20): 85148519.

Kurzban, Rob. 2013. “Is Evolutionary Psychology WEIRD or NORMAL?” The Evolutionary Psychology Blog. Available from:

Landers, N. Richard, Robert C. Brusso, Katelyn J. Cavanaugh and Andrew B. Collmus. 2016. “A Primer on Theory-Driven Web Scraping: Automatic Extraction of Big Data from the Internet for Use in Psychological Research.” Psychological Methods 21(4): 475492.

Lang, Martin, Benjamin G. Purzycki, Coren L. Apicella, Quentin D. Atkinson, Alexander Bolyanatz et al. 2019. “Moralizing Gods, Impartiality, and Religious Parochialism Across 15 Societies.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 286(1898): 110.

Lowry, B. Paul, John D’Arcy, Bryan Hammer and Gregory D. Moody. 2016. “‘Cargo Cult’ Science in Traditional Organization and Information Systems Survey Research: A Case for Using Nontraditional Methods of Data Collection, Including Mechanical Turk and Online Panels.” The Journal of Strategic Information Systems 25(3): 232240.

Mesoudi, Alex, Kesson Magid, Delwar Hussain and Christine A. Caldwell. 2016. “How Do People Become WEIRD? Migration Reveals the Cultural Transmission Mechanisms Underlying Variation in Psychological Processes.” PloS ONE 11(1): e0147162.

Murdock, P. George, and Douglas R. White. 1969. “Standard Cross-Cultural Sample.” Ethnology 8(4): 329369.

Nielson, Mark, Daniel Haun, Joscha Kärtner and Christine H. Legare. 2017. “The Persistent Sampling Bias in Developmental Psychology: A Call to Action.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 162: 3138.

Pilny, Andy, Brian Keegan, Brooke Wells, Chris Riedl, David Lazer et al. 2016. “Designing Online Experiments: Citizen Science Approaches to Research.” In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing Companion, pp. 498502New York: Association for Computing Machinary.

Pollet, V. Thomas, Joshua M. Tybur, Willem E. Frankenhuis and Ian J. Rickard. 2014. “What Can Cross-Cultural Correlations Teach Us about Human Nature?” Human Nature 25(3): 410429.

Power, A. Eleanor. 2017. “Discerning Devotion: Testing the Signaling Theory of Religion.” Evolution and Human Behavior 38(1): 8291.

Purzycki, G. Benjamin. 2016. “The Evolution of Gods’ Minds in the Tyva Republic.” Current Anthropology 57(S13): S88-S104.

Purzycki, G. Benjamin, Coren Apicella, Quentin D. Atkinson, Emma Cohen, Rita Anne McNamara, Aiyana K. Willard, Dimitris Xygalatas, Ara Norenzayan, and Joseph Henrich. 2016. “Moralistic Gods, Supernatural Punishment and the Expansion of Human Sociality.” Nature 530(7590): 327330.

Purzycki, G. Benjamin, Joseph Henrich, Coren Apicella, Quentin D. Atkinson, and Adam Baimel, Emma Cohen, Rita Anne McNamara, Aiyana K. Willard, Dimitris Xygalatas, and Ara Norenzayan. 2018a. “The Evolution of Religion and Morality: A Synthesis of Ethnographic and Experimental Evidence from Eight Societies.” Religion, Brain & Behavior 8(2): 101132.

Purzycki, G. Benjamin, Anne C.Pisor, Coren Apicella, QuentinAtkinson, EmmaCohen, Joseph Henrich, Richard McElreath, Rita A.McNamara, Ara Norenzayan, Aiyana K.Willard, Dimitris Xygalatas. 2018b. “The Cognitive and Cultural Foundations of Moral Behavior.” Evolution and Human Behavior 39(5): 490501.

Purzycki G. Benjamin, Cody T. Ross, Coren Apicella, Quentin D. Atkinson, Emma Cohen, Rita Anne McNamara, Aiyana K. Willard, Dimitris Xygalatas, Ara Norenzayan, Joseph Henrich. 2018c. “Material Security, Life History, and Moralistic Religions: A Cross-Cultural Examination.” PloS ONE 13(3): e0193856.

Rybanska, Veronika, Ryan McKay, Jonathan Jong and Harvey Whitehouse. 2018. “Rituals Improve Children’s Ability to Delay Gratification.” Child Development 89(2): 349359.

Sears, O. David. 1986. “College Sophomores in the Laboratory: Influences of a Narrow Data Base on Social Psychology’s View of Human Nature.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51(3): 515530.

Serpell, Robert. 2017. “How the Study of Cognitive Growth Can Benefit from a Cultural Lens.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 12(5): 889899.

Shaver, H. John, Martin Lang, Jan Krátký, Eva Kundtová Klocová, Radek Kundt et al. 2018. “The Boundaries of Trust: Cross-Religious and Cross-Ethnic Field Experiments in Mauritius.” Evolutionary Psychology 16(4): 17 December.

Sheehan, B. Kim. 2017. “Crowdsourcing Research: Data Collection with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.” Communication Monographs 85(1): 140156.

Snodgrass, G. Jeffrey, David E. Most and Chakrapani Upadhyay. 2017. “Religious Ritual Is Good Medicine for Indigenous Indian Conservation Refugees: Implications for Global Mental Health.” Current Anthropology 58(2): 257284.

Soler, Montserrat. 2012. “Costly Signaling, Ritual and Cooperation: Evidence from Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian Religion.” Evolution and Human Behavior 33(4): 346356.

Sperber, Dan. 1996. Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach. Oxford: Blackwell.

Statista. 2018. Distribution of Twitter Users Worldwide from 2012 to 2018, by Region [Online]. Available from:

Stewart, Neil, Jesse Chandler and Gabriele Paolacci. 2017. “Crowdsourcing Samples in Cognitive Science.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 21(10): 736748.

Talhelm, Thomas, Jonathan Haidt, Shigehiro Oishi, Xuemin Zhang, Felicity F. Miao et al. 2014. “Liberals Think More Analytically (More “WEIRD”) than Conservatives.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 41(2): 250267.

Tewari, Shruti, Sammyh Khan, Nick Hopkins, Narayanan Srinivasan, Stephen Reicher et al. 2012. “Participation in Mass Gatherings Can Benefit Well-Being: Longitudinal and Control Data from a North Indian Hindu Pilgrimage Event.” PLoS ONE 7(10): e47291.

van de Vijver, J. R. Fons, and Kwonk Leung. 1997. Methods and Data Analysis for Cross-Cultural Research. London: Sage.

Whitehouse, Harvey. 1992. “Memorable Religions: Transmission, Codification and Change in Divergent Melanesian Contexts.” Man 27(4): 777797.

———. 2004. Modes of Religiosity: A Cognitive Theory of Religious Transmission. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press.

Whitehouse, Harvey and Emma Cohen. 2012. “Seeking a Rapprochement Between Anthropology and the Cognitive Sciences: A Problem-Driven Approach.” Topics in Cognitive Science 4(3): 404412.

Willard, K. Aiyana. 2018. “Religion and Prosocial Behavior Among the Indo-Fijians.” Religion, Brain & Behavior 8(2): 227242.

Willard, K. Aiyana and Rita A. McNamara. 2019. “The Minds of God(s) and Humans: Differences in Mind Perception in Fiji and North America.” Cognitive Science 43(1): e12703.


Wilson, S. David and Harvey Whitehouse. 2016. “Developing the Field Site Concept for the Study of Cultural Evolution.” Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution&a