Americans Are Weird
“We Aren’t the World.” (March, 2013). Ethan Watters. Pacific Standard.
joe -henrich-ultimatum-game-shaking-up-psychology-economics-53135.
• Do all cultures think the same way about fairness?
– The ultimatum game
– In Peru researchers produced different splits than in
America (50/50) vs. (95/5)
• Joe Henrich’s research shows that we see the world
in culturally constructed ways:
– I.E. that we should welcome and celebrate people of all
backgrounds (yes), but the implied corollary – that people
from different backgrounds and cultures are all alike under
the skin (no).
• Cultures, including religious beliefs, shape human
cognition, and, thus influences bonding and
Muller-Lyer Illusion
• Americans see A as bigger.
– Grow up in box-shaped rooms, surrounded by carpentered
• San foragers of the Kalahari see A and B as the same.
– Grow up in natural environments, see things in context.
• There are wide cultural differences in how we infer
motivations, categorizing things, moral reasoning,
and the boundaries between the self and others.
• Our cultures and our economics are not shaped by our
sense of fairness, but the other way around.
– Our sense of fairness shapes our culture and our economics.
• Americans are weird.
• We are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and
Democratic – unlike the vast majority of people in the
• Thus, social scientists could not have picked a worse
population from which to draw broad generalizations.
– Most self-aggrandizing and egotistical people on the planet.
• Tight cultures = strong norms, low tolerance for
deviant behavior, high impulse control, more selfmonitoring (India, Pakistan)
• Americans tend to reason analytically, not holistically.
• Americans tend to think individualistically, not

Americans Are Weird