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  • Writer's pictureElina Halonen

How Ivy League biases are shaping the future of BeSci - making it even more WEIRD

The evolving landscape of US academic expectations has profound implications for the world of behavioural science, influencing not just our research, but also its application.

This article describes a growing expectation for Ivy League university applicants to boast research publications which has led to an emerging industry dedicated to mentoring high school students towards research publication, aiming to boost their chances of acceptance into elite U.S. universities. Annually, such programs cater to 12,000 students, with costs ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.

What does this have to do with behavioural science?

  1. Socio-Economic Bias: U.S. BeSci research often reflects a particular socio-economic class. From a European standpoint, where education systems are typically more egalitarian, the economic barriers associated with elite US institutions can seem almost surreal. BeSci has used student samples for years and with the increasing exclusivity of these institutions, these samples will become even less diverse, further narrowing the scope of research.

  2. Researcher Backgrounds Matter: Even though there are attempts to diversify research samples, researchers at top US universities themselves often come from relatively privileged backgrounds which inevitably influences the research questions posed and problems addressed (the various fraud scandals of recent years suggest sometimes one's own career is the main concern). Furthermore, prominent BeSci journals* are often steered by individuals from these elite institutions, which also influences what gets published and what is rejected - these trends shape careers and research interests from the moment someone starts their PhD.

  3. Bias in Applied BeSci: Many practitioners draw on books in the public domain that are written by scholars from Ivy League institutions, which shapes the discourse and the ideas we use in our work. To put it bluntly, we're influenced by a heady halo effect/authority bias combo. Meanwhile, I know many excellent researchers who opted for less famous academic institutions post their PhDs but their work, however meritorious, typically doesn't receive the same spotlight as those from the Ivy League circle so we're less likely to be exposed to their ideas.

The combined impact is that BeSci literature will become less relevant and the insights less applicable to the "real world", because the people generating that knowledge are further and further removed from the realities of life for the average person (ie the majority of people on the planet).


* "BeSci journals" is an umbrella term here for journals that typically publish the stuff we refer to as BeSci research

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