More on human sameness and variation

June 7, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

In the May 27, 2011 issue of Science (available online only to subscribers), Ara Norenzayan notes a new ambitious 33-nation study that “compares the degree to which societies regulate social behavior and sanctioned deviant behavior.”  Some of the findings are quite interesting:

Societies exposed to contemporary or historical threats, such as territorial conflict, resource scarcity, or exposure to high levels of pathogens, more strictly regulate social behavior and punish deviants. The societies are also more likely to have the about institutions that strictly regulate social norms. At the psychological level, individuals in tightly regulated societies report higher levels of self-monitoring, more intolerant attitudes toward outsiders, and being stricter attention to time.

This article also comments on religion:

Religion thrives when existential threats to human security, such as war or natural disaster, are rampant, and declines considerably in societies with high levels of economic development, low income inequality and infant mortality, and greater access to social safety nets.

[citing the work of P. Norris and R. Inglehart] And consider this observation on hoes and plows:

Societies that adopted the plow at an earlier historical period tended to have greater contemporary gender inequality (such as lower levels of women’s participation in the labor market and lower percentages of women in government)  In contrast, societies that adopted the hoe tend to have greater gender equality today.

Image by Erich Vieth - using images by Dreamstime, with permission

Reading about the great variety of societies reminds me, however, of Donald Brown’s work demonstrating an enormous number of similarities among all humans. Whenever we hear someone claim that human animals are “quite different from each other,” Brown would remind us to challenge this statement based on the overwhelming number of similarities set forth in this article. But also see here.

[The study was reported by M. J. Gelfand, et al., in Science 332, 100 (2011).]


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Category: Cultural Evolution, Human animals

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    "Religion…declines considerably in societies with high levels of economic development, low income inequality and infant mortality, and greater access to social safety nets."

    Perhaps this is why so many Christian conservatives vote Republican: compared to Democrats, Republican administrations have consistently produced lower economic development, higher income disparity, less access to healthcare, and fewer social safety nets. Maybe religious enthusiasts want to create conditions that cause more people to pursue divine intervention.

  2. Tim Hogan says:

    One of the clear implications of the research is that when some are able to position or frame the society as one in conflict (culture war, war on terror, war on Christmas, war on…)that person is best able to manufacture stricter social norms and the rest. It would appear that the Republicans understand this far better than the Democrats and political success has followed them even as that success is against the self-interest of the governed.

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