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.
Ensminger, Jean, and J. Henrich. “Introduction.” In Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspectiv, edited by Jean Ensminger and J. Henrich. New York: Russell Sage Press, 2014.
In suggesting that new nations often coalesce in the decades following war, historians have posed an important psychological question: Does the experience of war generate an enduring elevation in people's egalitarian motivations toward their in-group? We administered social-choice tasks to more than 1,000 children and adults differentially affected by wars in the Republic of Georgia and Sierra Leone. We found that greater exposure to war created a lasting increase in people's egalitarian motivations toward their in-group, but not their out-groups, during a developmental window starting in middle childhood (around 7 years of age) and ending in early adulthood (around 20 years of age). Outside this window, war had no measurable impact on social motivations in young children and had only muted effects on the motivations of older adults. These war effects are broadly consistent with predictions from evolutionary approaches that emphasize the importance of group cooperation in defending against external threats, though they also highlight key areas in need of greater theoretical development.
Cooperation between nonrelatives is common in humans. Reciprocal altruism is a plausible evolutionary mechanism for cooperation within unrelated pairs, as selection may favor individuals who selectively cooperate with those who have cooperated with them in the past. Reciprocity is often observed in humans, but there is only limited evidence of reciprocal altruism in other primate species, raising questions about the origins of human reciprocity. Here, we explore how reciprocity develops in a sample of American children ranging from 3 to 7.5 years of age, and also compare children's behavior to that of chimpanzees in prior studies to gain insight into the phylogeny of human reciprocity. Children show a marked tendency to respond contingently to both prosocial and selfish acts, patterns that have not been seen among chimpanzees in prior studies. Our results show that reciprocity increases markedly with age in this population of children, and by about 5.5 years of age children consistently match the previous behavior of their partners. (C) 2013 Published by Elsevier Inc.
The psychological capacity to recognize that others may hold and act on false beliefs has been proposed to reflect an evolved, species-typical adaptation for social reasoning in humans; however, controversy surrounds the developmental timing and universality of this trait. Cross-cultural studies using elicited-response tasks indicate that the age at which children begin to understand false beliefs ranges from 4 to 7 years across societies, whereas studies using spontaneous-response tasks with Western children indicate that false-belief understanding emerges much earlier, consistent with the hypothesis that false-belief understanding is a psychological adaptation that is universally present in early childhood. To evaluate this hypothesis, we used three spontaneous-response tasks that have revealed early false-belief understanding in the West to test young children in three traditional, non-Western societies: Salar (China), Shuar/Colono (Ecuador) and Yasawan (Fiji). Results were comparable with those from the West, supporting the hypothesis that false-belief understanding reflects an adaptation that is universally present early in development.
Human populations differ reliably in the degree to which people favor family, friends, and community members over strangers and outsiders. In the last decade, researchers have begun to propose several economic and evolutionary hypotheses for these cross-population differences in parochialism. In this paper, we outline major current theories and review recent attempts to test them. We also discuss the key methodological challenges in assessing these diverse economic and evolutionary theories for cross-population differences in parochialism.
Slingerland, Edward, Joseph Henrich, and Ara Norenzayan. “The evolution of prosocial religions.” In Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language and Religion, edited by Peter J Richerson and M. H. Christiansen. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013.