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  • Writer's pictureElina Halonen

Tools for deWEIRDifying behavioural science

Updated: Jun 13

Over the past few years, there's been a growing realization in applied behavioural science about just how WEIRD our field really is - it's a great development and something I have been waiting for since the beginning of my career, because cultural psychology was my original entry point into behavioural science. In this post, I want to share some resources for other behavioural scientists to deWEIRDify our field.

The first academic psychology conference I ever attended was by the 2011 International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP) in Istanbul and it was love at first sight - or maybe it would be better described like duck imprinting. Since then, I have attended and presented at several IACCP conferences as well as industry conferences as far back as 2015 all while doing a Master's degree in this topic.

Quite often I bumped into a wall of shrugs like "we don't need to understand cultural context, the biases are universal" - the discourse of nudges drowned out everything else for years. It has also been a problem that much of the existing cross-cultural research in judgment and decision making is scattered and lacking in a clear unifying framework. While the academic publication process has been focusing on discovering "main effects" in the heuristics and biases stream of research, we often don't understand the mechanisms of action for interventions or (cultural) boundary conditions, which makes it tough for practitioners to apply even the limited theory available so far.

For truly global applied behavioural science, including behavioural scientists from the global south is a start, but it's not enough: we need cross-pollination between cultural psychology and applied behavioural science. In particular, applied BeSci needs the theories and insights from cultural psychology to guide understanding and avoid reinventing the wheel. By bridging this gap with both theory and lived experience, we can develop a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to understanding human behaviour in diverse contexts.

In this post, you'll find recommendations for:

  • introductory reads that cover a wide range of topics in cultural/cross-cultural psychology

  • foundational handbooks

  • advanced handbooks, and

  • a couple of books on specific topics like autonomy, trust and organisational behaviour.

I've deliberately included a very brief description of each book, because it's hard to do justice to their breadth and depth - you'll need to assess the usefulness of each book for your work by taking a look at the table of contents. Clicking on the title of the book will take you to the publisher's website where you can see that.

Easy entry points

These are not meant as handbooks or references - they are the kinds of books you could listen to on Audible and read on your commute. You can also find a list of 7 recommended books in a previous post from 2021 - these books have been published since so I'm listing them separately.

My previous review is here - a great book that will give you an overview of cultural influences on emotions. Also listed as Behavioral Scientist Notable Book of the Year.

An epic book that explores how culture, institutions, and psychology shape one another, and explains what this means for both our most personal sense of who we are as individuals and also the large-scale social, political, and economic forces that drive human history. The author has described this a "part 2" for his equally epic first book, "The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating our Species and Making Us Smarter" . N.B. These two books are lean on the philosophical more than practical, and they are very extensive (17-19h on Audible, compared to >10h for most non-fiction books).

This book was published before 2021 and it's included in the other list, but I will highlight it again because adds an important dimension to understanding human behaviour - the importance we place on rules and norms, as well as adhering to them. The link will take you to the author's website where you'll find other works, too.


Introductory academic books

Introductory book that includes concepts and theories made accessible to the reader using practical examples and everyday life experiences from diverse parts of the world.

A handbook for psychology teachers to help them integrate culture into their curriculum. A great accessible book to get an overview of different subfields.

Explores the impact of social and economic conditions on various aspects of an individual's life cycle and psychological processes and brings together state-of-the-art research from multiple fields, such as psychology, anthropology, economics, epidemiology, and evolutionary science and examines how economic conditions, economic change, and the type of economic activity or structure shape different psychological processes.

Foundational handbooks

A comprehensive exploration of cross-cultural psychology - covering fundamental questions, explanations for cross-cultural differences, and methods for studying culture. Examines the relationship between individual and culture, and the role of development, meaning systems, values and cultural contexts in shaping cross-cultural differences.

Examines how topics fundamental to psychology (e.g. cognition, emotion, motivation, development, and mental health) are influenced by cultural meanings and practices, and addresses the psychological and evolutionary underpinnings of cultural stability and change.

Provides a comprehensive overview of current work integrating culture across major subfields of psychological science, with introductory chapters on topics such as cultural psychology and ethnocentrism, which provide a foundation for more specialized chapters.

Advanced handbooks

Annual series presenting new research in the field of culture and psychology - each volume includes specially commissioned chapters on a wide topics that reflects theoretical, methodological, and epistemological diversity in the study of culture and psychology.

Focuses on how culture matters to memory by exploring how memory is deeply entwined with social relationships, stories in film and literature, group history, monuments, ritual practices, material artifacts, and a host of other cultural devices.

Covers all domains of developmental science from a cultural point of view and in all regions of the globe: part 1 covers domains of development across cultures, and part 2 focuses on development in different places around the world. Also documents child and caregiver characteristics associated with cultural variation, and charts relations between cultural and developmental variations in physical, mental, emotional, and social development in children, parents, and cultural groups.

Specific topics

A theoretical and conceptual account of the nature and psychological mechanisms of personal motivational autonomy and human agency. Explanations of how and why different psychological and socio-cultural conditions may play a role in promoting or undermining people's autonomous motivation and well-being.

Explores how trustworthiness is conceptualized in multiple cultural contexts - core components of trustworthiness may be universal, but their application and expectations vary across cultures.

Comprehensive overview of how culture affects behaviour in organizations, from micro to macro levels. Each chapter provides cutting-edge developments in theory and research and also implications for practice, with key take-aways at the end of each chapter.

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