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The Future’s Looking Less WEIRD*

*WEIRD describes a social science research bias of overgeneralizing findings gathered from research that over-samples subjects who are from Western countries, are Educated and live in Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies.

People from WEIRD contexts make up about 80% of social science research participants, while only representing 12% of the world’s population. Using these findings to speak for people everywhere? Now that’s weird.

Co-Director Mike Coleman speaks to Dr. Hansika Kapoor and Anirudh Tagat about  their experiences as behavioural researchers in India, contributing to a field that’s been WEIRD from inception. As scientists at Mumbai-based research institution Monk Prayogshala, they’ve been hard at work throughout the pandemic, challenging Western findings and offering alternative behavioural interventions rooted in context. Hansika, Anirudh and an increasing number of practitioners like them are seizing this moment to pave a future for BS that’s accessible, collaborative, and a lot less WEIRD.

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Here are four things we learnt from our conversation with Hansika and Anirudh:

Find Common Ground
In a place as diverse as India, developing health communications that resonate with every heartbeat and hair-do on the street is back-breaking work. But being culturally-sensitive doesn’t always mean zooming in, Hansika and Anirudh proffer quite the opposite. Their research points to the power of symbols that speak to every Indian, regardless of language, culture or creed.

You can’t just copy and paste
While patterns in the pavement are helping people keep their distance in Western countries, images of “Social Distancing Fails” in India went viral, showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of applied behavioural science in a pandemic. We’d argue that these people haven’t failed at social distancing, but interventions like these have failed to consider their context.

Great adversity fosters great innovation
The urgency to find a saving grace in this pandemic has been a renaissance for behavioural science, underscoring the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and giving quick, flexible, and affordable methods of gathering data some well-deserved time in the limelight (Sorry, RCTs).

Leveling the Field
Researchers across the globe who typically face financial barriers to participating in conferences, are now able to share their insights and lessons in our new status quo. Fully-remote conferences are not only saving our planet, but are giving scientists in the Global South a much-needed seat at the table.

More from Hansika and Anirudh:

The music featured in this episode is Last Light, Termites, Alternate, and Submersible off of the album Alternate by Xylo-Ziko.

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