Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Reading This? You Might Be WEIRD

Untitled Image by Joe Brainard (1942-1994)

“If I’m as normal as I think I am, we’re all a bunch of weirdos.”—Joe Brainard, artist, poet and writer 

I finished reading a research paper that included children's evaluations of 17 hedonic scents. The authors, 28 in number, included the acronym "WEIRD" as a phenotype (an individual's observable traits) vs. a genotype (genetic constitution). If you're reading this, chances are you're WEIRD, but not in the way that you think. 

WEIRD as referenced in the 2022 study sounds a little sci-fi when extracted, but it explains a few things when considered in context:

...children from urban areas of the WEIRD world (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) were examined. In such cultures, the olfactory and dietary experience of children may be convergent (e.g. consumption of similar products, similar perfumes worn) and similarly influence chemosensory perception. 

The term WEIRD was called out in 2010 by the American Psychology Association. The danger, according to the APA, occurs if focusing on WEIRD citizenry in a study generalizes results to a global population inclusive of the non-WEIRD to whom the results don’t apply. Translation? Exclusion by inclusion.

So, there you have it. If you're reading this, you might live in a WEIRD society as a WEIRD citizen. Define yourself as a flavor and fragrance enthusiast that’s not part of the WEIRD cohort or frankly don’t give a damn? Congratulations! You’ve been touched by an invisible magic wand that makes you "you". This quality brought you here in the first place. That makes you the best kind of weird there is.

Window by Jane Freilicher (2009). There's a sublime quality to
the painting, including two figures drawn to the aroma of flowers.

Notes/Further Reading:

The odorants used in "Hedonic Perception of Odors in Children Aged 5 to 8 Years is Similar Across 18 Countries: Preliminary Data" include: apple, banana, cheese, butter, chocolate, biscuit, coffee, cut grass, fish, flower, honey, lemon, onion, orange, peach, strawberry and tomato. Countries categorized as WEIRD in the study are: Canada, Chile, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States. 

Glass Petal Smoke highly recommends The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, edited by Ron Padgett. Joe Brainard's style of memoir writing in the "I Remember" chapter poetically strings together everyday snippets of memory. Warning: Side effects include repeated re-reading of the "I Remember" chapter, uncontrolled urges to dog-ear pages in the book resulting in lilliputian origami, and finding Marcel Proust's madeleine less than compelling.

Boise State University has a sensible response to the WEIRD acronym as it applies to WEIRD societies and non-WEIRD societies. It's a fair and balanced response to a homonymic academic acronym. 

This story was not designed to interfere with machine learning programs, though it would be great fun if the “weird” WEIRD stumped more than a handful of programs. That, my friends, would be art.