Sunday, August 29, 2021

Humans are social animals, but not everyone will be mindful of others to the same extent: Social mindfulness and prosociality vary across the globe (study of 31 nations and regions)

Social mindfulness and prosociality vary across the globe. Niels J. Van Doesum. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 31, 2021 118 (35) e2023846118;

Significance: Cooperation is key to well-functioning groups and societies. Rather than addressing high-cost cooperation involving giving money or time and effort, we examine social mindfulness—a form of interpersonal benevolence that requires basic perspective-taking and is aimed at leaving choice for others. Do societies differ in social mindfulness, and if so, does it matter? Here, we find not only considerable variation across 31 nations and regions but also an association between social mindfulness and countries’ performance on environmental protection. We conclude that something as small and concrete as interpersonal benevolence can be entwined with current and future issues of global importance.

Abstract: Humans are social animals, but not everyone will be mindful of others to the same extent. Individual differences have been found, but would social mindfulness also be shaped by one’s location in the world? Expecting cross-national differences to exist, we examined if and how social mindfulness differs across countries. At little to no material cost, social mindfulness typically entails small acts of attention or kindness. Even though fairly common, such low-cost cooperation has received little empirical attention. Measuring social mindfulness across 31 samples from industrialized countries and regions (n = 8,354), we found considerable variation. Among selected country-level variables, greater social mindfulness was most strongly associated with countries’ better general performance on environmental protection. Together, our findings contribute to the literature on prosociality by targeting the kind of everyday cooperation that is more focused on communicating benevolence than on providing material benefits.

Keywords: social mindfulnesscross-national differenceslow-cost cooperation


Large-scale, industrialized societies differ in low-cost cooperation as operationalized using SoMi; in this broad overview, we found strong support for substantial cross-national variation (Fig. 1). This confirms that research on cooperation should look at nation-level differences (cf. ref. 28). Across three broad themes, SoMi was associated with individual trust and SVO and some societal and economic indices (religiosity, power distance, GDP, and Gini) but most strongly with the level of EPI within the targeted countries. We also found limited associations with demographic variables (parental education and SES). Ranking and pattern of associations for SoMi and SVO overlapped meaningfully but not substantially, confirming that low-cost cooperation should be investigated independently from costly cooperation.

Our primary aim was to provide an overview of cross-national differences in SoMi. The proportion of socially mindful decisions differed considerably across the samples in our study. Scores ranged from 46.2 (Indonesia) to 72.0% (Japan), with a gradual incline between the lowest and highest values (see Fig. 1). This pattern indicates that low-cost cooperation varies across nation-based populations and should be further investigated. Other than costly cooperation measured using tasks with monetary consequences, there is little research on nonmonetary, low-cost cooperation, even though “social life also involves low-cost cooperation, such as information sharing, showing respect, and conveying appreciation such as gratitude and compliments” [(36), p. 503].

Exploring potential mechanisms in a second step, we organized selected variables in three broader themes. Within the first theme, trusting others was associated with SoMi at individual level but not at country level. A common factor in research on costly cooperation (263037), this finding could suggest that functional trust in low-cost cooperation is different from how trust operates in costly cooperation; however, scale reliability was low, and conclusions should be treated with caution. Looking at social preferences, we did find the expected positive association with SVO, which was moderate at individual level and larger at country level (4). Fig. 1 illustrates this correlation but at the same time shows clear differences of where countries are on the list. This distinction is corroborated by a fully different pattern of associations in step two of the analyses across all three themes. Only level of education seems to provide common ground, but even there it concerns parental (SoMi) versus individual (SVO) education. Together these findings provide evidence for the unique place of low-cost cooperation in general and SoMi in particular within the broader concept of human cooperation.

The second theme, investigations of selected societal variables and economic indices at country level, showed higher levels of SoMi for countries with lower levels of religiosity. This brings to mind that the common positive association between religiosity and subjective well-being strongly depends on societal factors; difficult life circumstances predict higher religiosity and thus greater well-being (38). SoMi seems associated with easier life circumstances, as indicated by associations with GDP, GNI, and Gini. We did not measure individual level religiosity, however, which makes it unclear if and how religiosity and SoMi are connected at the personal level. The simple relation between religiosity and cooperation in the literature (e.g., ref. 39) would suggest a positive association (but see refs. 26 and 40), and the community aspect of many religions could well promote SoMi, at least within one’s own community (25). Additionally, the democratically installed and maintained rule of law showed a positive association with SoMi. The negative association with power distance (Hofstede dimensions) points in the same direction: SoMi—low-cost cooperation—is not driven by obeying those in power but by truly interpersonal relations in which others are seen and acknowledged as equals living under the same norms (3).

Following the third theme, SoMi was not correlated at individual level with most of the demographic variables we investigated. Although several correlations were statistically significant, effect sizes were generally too small to be meaningful. At country level, we found that SoMi was positively associated with parental education but negatively with SES. Seemingly contradictory, both parental education and SES are used as operationalizations of social class. One explanation for the divergent pattern is that parental education reflects what often is described as cultural capital, or class background (41), whereas the social ladder as a measure of subjective social class is based on one’s actual economic assessment, or class foreground (4243). Foreground and background complement each other but do not automatically overlap. That SoMi is positively related with background cultural capital but negatively with foreground economic hierarchy once more underlines that SoMi skips the economic costs. It also shows that social class is and remains a complex and multifaceted phenomenon to define (6).

Among all potential mechanisms we investigated, one solid effect needs to be highlighted. The country-level association between SoMi and EPI that washed out all other relations in our final model suggests that prosocial tendencies may not only be revealed in people’s orientation toward individual strangers but also toward a collective of strangers with a broader concern for environmental sustainability. This broader concern specifically combines protection of environmental health with the protection of ecosystems (44). The positive association connects with growing research on the social aspects of biodiversity conservation and sustainability initiatives that suggests that greater social capital is accompanied by greater and more successful environmental protection (4546), possibly a form of collective action (47). In terms of the SoMi paradigm, SoMi may not only reflect how people leave others choice at a micro level but also how they may want to leave the broader community of others a reasonably healthy earth to live on at a macro level. SoMi, then, is shaped by a socially interconnected environment in which the awareness of a “we,” “us,” and “our future” may all be equally accessible units of thought and action. Among other things, this may promote a social and political climate that helps recognize, address, and reduce climate change.

In the end, what best explains the general picture? Considering all findings, we suggest that SoMi may be conceptualized as a specific and effective expression of social capital (4750), a comprehensive perspective on society with important implications for its development and functioning (30). Following one of the definitions, the economic function of social capital is to diminish the costs of formal coordination tasks by using informal social communication channels (51). From a relational perspective, such capital materializes through social interactions that include low-cost cooperation. Requiring no monetary or otherwise effortful investments to acknowledge, confirm, and promote high-trust social relationships, SoMi would be specifically set up to do so; the socially mindful person signals benevolence and trustworthiness (2321). A promising connection with social capital is also suggested in the ranking of our locations: Japan, highest on the SoMi list, is traditionally known for stressing the value of social capital (52), and ranks 12th (of 180) on the Global Sustainable Competiveness Index social capital world index (53), while Indonesia, lowest on the SoMi list, ranks 70. A simple bivariate correlation without corrections learns that SoMi and social capital scores are associated at r (30) = 0.56, P = 0.002. Although quantifying social capital is difficult, this is corroborated by the relations we found between SoMi and the ensemble of variables lead by EPI and followed by economic indices (GDP, GNI, and Gini), rule of law, power distance, individual and generalized trust, and civic cooperation (tendency only), which all in their own way have been connected to presence and development of social capital (454751). Future research could develop this.

Limitations and Future Research.

It should be noted that our findings specifically pertain to low-cost cooperation as measured using SoMi and that different results may be obtained when material costs of cooperation become high(er). Higher costs could make self-related thoughts more salient and thus may move people away from a “we mode” of thinking that is more natural for low-cost cooperation. Moreover, our explanation of SoMi as low-cost prosociality is mainly theoretical. To complete our tests, future research could compare SoMi with specific other forms of low-cost (e.g., helping that does not require time or effort) and costly cooperation (e.g., dictator or ultimatum games) in terms of important background psychological variables like personal values, personality (45455), trust, intra- and intergroup dynamics, generalized reciprocity, and identification with the collective (56). One suggestion would be that low-cost cooperation is more common and even more intuitive than high-cost cooperation (5758). Numerous daily situations lend themselves to simple decisions that reflect regard for others—see our wine choice example—and have more important outcomes at the relational level than with regards to resource allocation. This makes it likely that for many individuals, kind behaviors are a matter of habit without much deliberation, but only when it does not cost them.

Importantly, the current data provide preliminary evidence; confirmatory research is certainly needed. Our findings are based on a cross-national investigation among mostly young, college-aged individuals, mainly in cities with reasonable access to universities or other institutions of higher education. As much as this constrains generalizability, however, the strength of this approach is that it provided much-needed experimental control and comparability between samples in this initial research. For a next step, more general samples could be targeted. Moreover, the mechanisms we examined were derived from three common theoretical frameworks but, given the novelty of the construct to cross-national comparisons, remain largely exploratory. For example, there may be factors we have not included that could shed more light on why SoMi varies across nations and regions. Hence, we strongly recommend follow-up research to include different samples that are representative of other parts of the population and use complementary experimental designs.

From 2003...The Second Law of Thermodynamics Is the First Law of Psychology: Evolutionary Developmental Psychology and the Theory Of Tandem, Coordinated Inheritances

From 2003... Tooby, J., Cosmides, L., & Barrett, H. C. (2003). The Second Law of Thermodynamics Is the First Law of Psychology: Evolutionary Developmental Psychology and the Theory Of Tandem, Coordinated Inheritances: Comment on Lickliter and Honeycutt (2003). Psychological Bulletin, 129(6), 858–865.

Abstract: Organisms inherit a set of environmental regularities as well as genes, and these two inheritances repeatedly encounter each other across generations. This repetition drives natural selection to coordinate the interplay of stably replicated genes with stably persisting environmental regularities, so that this web of interactions produces the reliable development of a functionally organized design. Selection is the only known counterweight to the tendency of physical systems to lose rather than grow functional organization. This means that the individually unique and unpredictable factors in the web of developmental interactions are a disordering threat to normal development. Selection built anti-entropic mechanisms into organisms to orchestrate transactions with environments so that they have some chance of being organization-building and reproduction-enhancing rather than disordering.


As evolutionary psychologists, we believe in design reincarnation based on two inheritances, not genetic preformationism based on one.


Lessons for Psychology From Thermodynamics and Darwinism

The most basic lesson is that natural selection is the only known natural process that pushes populations of organisms thermodynamically uphill into higher degrees of functional order, or even offsets the inevitable increase in disorder that would otherwise take place. Therefore, all functional organization in undomesticated organisms that is greater than could be expected by chance (which is nearly all functional organization) is ultimately the result of the operation of natural selection and hence must be explained in terms of it (if it is to be explained at all). This is why understanding natural selection is enormously beneficial to any theoretically principled psychology. In effect, natural selection defines the design criteria to which organisms were built to conform. This is why knowledge of ancestral natural selection combined with knowledge of ancestral environments provides a principled theoretical framework for deriving predictions about the reliably developing design of the human mind. Natural selection is (a) the set of enduring, nonrandom, cause-and-effect relationships in the world that (b) interact with the reliably developing features of organisms (c) in such a way that they consistently cause some design variants to reproduce their designs more frequently than others because of their design differences. Hence, those traits that do not reliably develop across generations cannot be systematically interacted with by selection and thus will not be organized by the long-term operation of selection. Reciprocally, if a property of the world does not stably endure across generations, then it will not last long enough to cause some design features to supplant others in large populations, and its effects will not show up in the species-typical designs of organisms. Selection brings about a functional coordination between the stable, long-term properties of environments and the stable, cross-generationally recurrent, reliably developing (and hence predictable or prespecifiable) properties of organisms. In contrast, there is no process that guarantees that unique, novel interactions between environments and organisms will be functional. Hence, natural selection predicts and explains the extraordinarily nonrandom, functionally organized relationships that interpenetrate the species-wide designs of all organisms, including humans. Whenever one sees functional order, one is seeing the downstream contrivances of natural selection.

The outcomes of over 5 million chess games were analyzed; controlling for differences in chess skills, there was an enhanced performance among players who were competing outside of their home countries; advantage is approx 2%

The performance advantage of traveling. Uri Zak. Journal of Economic Psychology, August 28 2021, 102431.

Abstract: Many individuals travel between countries as part of their professional routines. How do they perform during those short trips abroad? To begin to answer this question, I analyzed the outcomes of over 5 million chess games played around the world. Importantly, tournament chess provides a clean setting in which location-dependent factors are mostly irrelevant; the audiences are quiet and the referees make hardly any judgments. Controlling for differences in chess skills, I found enhanced performance among players who were competing outside of their home countries. This finding was robust to additional controls such as age, sex, and skill momentum or game practice, and to the inclusion of individual or country fixed effects. This advantage, an approximately 2% increase in game outcome, suggests that traveling has a positive effect on performance.

Keywords: Home advantageChessCognitive performanceTravelSports

Similarities and differences in concepts of mental life among adults and children in five cultures (US, Ghana, Thailand, China, & Vanuatu)

Similarities and differences in concepts of mental life among adults and children in five cultures. Kara Weisman, Cristine H. Legare, Rachel E. Smith, Vivian A. Dzokoto, Felicity Aulino, Emily Ng, John C. Dulin, Nicole Ross-Zehnder, Joshua D. Brahinsky & Tanya Marie Luhrmann. Nature Human Behaviour, Aug 26 2021.

Abstract: How do concepts of mental life vary across cultures? By asking simple questions about humans, animals and other entities – for example, ‘Do beetles get hungry? Remember things? Feel love?’ – we reconstructed concepts of mental life from the bottom up among adults (N = 711) and children (ages 6–12 years, N = 693) in the USA, Ghana, Thailand, China and Vanuatu. This revealed a cross-cultural and developmental continuity: in all sites, among both adults and children, cognitive abilities travelled separately from bodily sensations, suggesting that a mind–body distinction is common across diverse cultures and present by middle childhood. Yet there were substantial cultural and developmental differences in the status of social–emotional abilities – as part of the body, part of the mind or a third category unto themselves. Such differences may have far-reaching social consequences, whereas the similarities identify aspects of human understanding that may be universal.


We asked simple questions (Do beetles remember things? Do ghosts get hungry? Do chickens feel love?), and used people's answers to reconstruct concepts of mental life from the bottom up among adults and 6-12yo children in the US, Ghana, Thailand, China, & Vanuatu