The Needs of the Many Do Not Outweigh the Needs of the Few: The Limits of Individual Sacrifice across Diverse Cultures

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • a) Institut Jean-Nicod CNRS UMR 8129, Institut d’Etude de la Cognition Ecole Normale Supérieure — PSL Research University, France
  • b) Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives — INSERM U960, Institut d’Etude de la Cognition Ecole Normale Supérieure — PSL Research University, France
  • c) Nara Teachers college of Early childhood Education, Nara, Japan
  • d) Department of General Psychology, Vilnius University, Lithuania
  • e) Instituto de Investigaciones Psicológicas, Universidad de Costa Rica, Costa Rica
  • f) Reasearch institute for child psychology and pathopsychology, Bratislava, Slovakia
  • g) Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, USA
  • h) School of Human Evolution & Social Change, Arizona State University, USA
  • i) Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (F.R.S.-FNRS) & Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • j) Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative Université Paris Ouest Nanterre — Nanterre University, CNRS (UMR 7186), France
  • k) Centre Asie du Sud-Est, EHESS/CNRS, UMR 8170, Paris, France
  • * Corresponding Author, Yale University

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Abstract

A long tradition of research in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) countries has investigated how people weigh individual welfare versus group welfare in their moral judgments. Relatively less research has investigated the generalizability of results across non-WEIRD populations. In the current study, we ask participants across nine diverse cultures (Bali, Costa Rica, France, Guatemala, Japan, Madagascar, Mongolia, Serbia, and the USA) to make a series of moral judgments regarding both third-party sacrifice for group welfare and first-person sacrifice for group welfare. In addition to finding some amount of cross-cultural variation on most of our questions, we also find two cross-culturally consistent judgments: (1) when individuals are in equivalent situations, overall welfare should be maximized, and (2) harm to individuals should be taken into account, and some types of individual harm can trump overall group welfare. We end by discussing the specific pattern of variable and consistent features in the context of evolutionary theories of the evolution of morality.

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