Anthropologists have documented substantial cross-society variation in people's willingness to treat strangers with impartial, universal norms versus favoring members of their local community. Researchers have proposed several adaptive accounts for these differences. One variant of the pathogen stress hypothesis predicts that people will be more likely to favor local in-group members when they are under greater infectious disease threat. The material security hypothesis instead proposes that institutions that permit people to meet their basic needs through impartial interactions with strangers reinforce a tendency toward impartiality, whereas people lacking such institutions must rely on local community members to meet their basic needs. Some studies have examined these hypotheses using self-reported preferences, but not with behavioral measures. We conducted behavioral experiments in eight diverse societies that measure individuals' willingness to favor in-group members by ignoring an impartial rule. Consistent with the material security hypothesis, members of societies enjoying better-quality government services and food security show a stronger preference for following an impartial rule over investing in their local in-group. Our data show no support for the pathogen stress hypothesis as applied to favoring in-groups and instead suggest that favoring in-group members more closely reflects a general adaptive fit with social institutions that have arisen in each society.
Much existing literature in anthropology suggests that teaching is rare in non-Western societies, and that cultural transmission is mostly vertical (parent-to-offspring). However, applications of evolutionary theory to humans predict both teaching and non-vertical transmission of culturally learned skills, behaviors, and knowledge should be common cross-culturally. Here, we review this body of theory to derive predictions about when teaching and non-vertical transmission should be adaptive, and thus more likely to be observed empirically. Using three interviews conducted with rural Fijian populations, we find that parents are more likely to teach than are other kin types, high-skill and highly valued domains are more likely to be taught, and oblique transmission is associated with high-skill domains, which are learned later in life. Finally, we conclude that the apparent conflict between theory and empirical evidence is due to a mismatch of theoretical hypotheses and empirical claims across disciplines, and we reconcile theory with the existing literature in light of our results.
Western children first show signs of mirror self-recognition (MSR) from 18 to 24 months of age, the benchmark index of emerging self-concept. Such signs include self-oriented behaviors while looking at the mirror to touch or remove a mark surreptitiously placed on the child’s face. The authors attempted to replicate this finding across cultures using a simplified version of the classic “mark test.” In Experiment 1, Kenyan children (N = 82, 18 to 72 months old) display a pronounced absence of spontaneous self-oriented behaviors toward the mark. In Experiment 2, the authors tested children in Fiji, Saint Lucia, Grenada, and Peru (N = 133, 36 to 55 months old), as well as children from urban United States and rural Canada. As expected from existing reports, a majority of the Canadian and American children demonstrate spontaneous self-oriented behaviors toward the mark. However, markedly fewer children from the non-Western rural sites demonstrate such behaviors. These results suggest that there are profound cross-cultural differences in the meaning of the MSR test, questioning the validity of the mark test as a universal index of self-concept in children’s development.