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      Pathogen prevalence predicts human cross-cultural variability in individualism/collectivism

      1 , 1 , 2 , 2

      Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

      The Royal Society

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          Abstract

          Pathogenic diseases impose selection pressures on the social behaviour of host populations. In humans (Homo sapiens), many psychological phenomena appear to serve an antipathogen defence function. One broad implication is the existence of cross-cultural differences in human cognition and behaviour contingent upon the relative presence of pathogens in the local ecology. We focus specifically on one fundamental cultural variable: differences in individualistic versus collectivist values. We suggest that specific behavioural manifestations of collectivism (e.g. ethnocentrism, conformity) can inhibit the transmission of pathogens; and so we hypothesize that collectivism (compared with individualism) will more often characterize cultures in regions that have historically had higher prevalence of pathogens. Drawing on epidemiological data and the findings of worldwide cross-national surveys of individualism/collectivism, our results support this hypothesis: the regional prevalence of pathogens has a strong positive correlation with cultural indicators of collectivism and a strong negative correlation with individualism. The correlations remain significant even when controlling for potential confounding variables. These results help to explain the origin of a paradigmatic cross-cultural difference, and reveal previously undocumented consequences of pathogenic diseases on the variable nature of human societies.

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          Most cited references 22

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          Culture and conformity: A meta-analysis of studies using Asch's (1952b, 1956) line judgment task.

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            The shifting basis of life satisfaction judgments across cultures: Emotions versus norms.

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              Immune defense and host life history.

              Recent interest has focused on immune response in an evolutionary context, with particular attention to disease resistance as a life-history trait, subject to trade-offs against other traits such as reproductive effort. Immune defense has several characteristics that complicate this approach, however; for example, because of the risk of autoimmunity, optimal immune defense is not necessarily maximum immune defense. Two important types of cost associated with immunity in the context of life history are resource costs, those related to the allocation of essential but limited resources, such as energy or nutrients, and option costs, those paid not in the currency of resources but in functional or structural components of the organism. Resource and option costs are likely to apply to different aspects of resistance. Recent investigations into possible trade-offs between reproductive effort, particularly sexual displays, and immunity have suggested interesting functional links between the two. Although all organisms balance the costs of immune defense against the requirements of reproduction, this balance works out differently for males than it does for females, creating sex differences in immune response that in turn are related to ecological factors such as the mating system. We conclude that immune response is indeed costly and that future work would do well to include invertebrates, which have sometimes been neglected in studies of the ecology of immune defense.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
                Proc. R. Soc. B
                The Royal Society
                0962-8452
                1471-2954
                February 26 2008
                June 07 2008
                February 26 2008
                June 07 2008
                : 275
                : 1640
                : 1279-1285
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Department of Biology, University of New MexicoAlbuquerque, NM 87131, USA
                [2 ]Department of Psychology, University of British ColumbiaVancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4
                Article
                10.1098/rspb.2008.0094
                2602680
                18302996
                d4300499-911c-4795-ad0e-dd15b5bf3c2e
                © 2008

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