Why Do Psychologists Always Study College Undergraduates

Yesterday Catherine Rampell tweeted a link to a study from a few years ago which showed that a small sample of male teenagers claimed they’d be more attracted to a hypothetical women in a subordinate occupational role rather than one in an equal or superior role. But what the lead said was “Men are more likely to want to marry women who are their assistants at work rather than their colleagues or bosses, a University of Michigan study finds.”

But to quote a later part of the press release, they clearly found no such thing:

For the study, supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Brown and co-author Brian Lewis from UCLA tested 120 male and 208 female undergraduates by asking them to rate their attraction and desire to affiliate with a man and a woman they were said to know from work.

By the same logic, my study of human behavior indicates that Americans of both genders typically wake up between 10 and 11 a.m., and subsist primarily on Natty Light and pizza. Yet somehow everyone understands that college students’ behavior does not allow us to draw generalizable conclusions about human behavior. And yet I’m constantly seeing psychology studies that look at a small sample of college students and draw wildly broad conclusions. College students aren’t even demographically representative of the college-age population. Can’t we do better than this?