Regional variation in pathogen prevalence predicts endorsement of group-focused moral concerns

Florian van Leeuwen*, Justin H. Park, Bryan L. Koenig, Jesse Graham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

According to Moral Foundations Theory, people endorse "individualizing" foundations (Harm/care, Fairness/reciprocity) or "binding" foundations (Ingroup/loyalty, Authority/respect, Purity/sanctity) to varying degrees. As societies with higher pathogen prevalence have been found to exhibit more pronounced antipathogen psychological tendencies and cultural practices (e.g., conformity, collectivism), we hypothesized that pathogen prevalence may predict endorsement of the binding moral foundations, which may also serve to minimize pathogen transmission. We examined associations between historical and contemporary pathogen prevalence and endorsement of the moral foundations via multilevel analyses. Country-level analyses showed that even when controlling for gross domestic product per capita, historical (but not contemporary) pathogen prevalence significantly predicted endorsement of the binding foundations, but not individualizing foundations. Multilevel analyses showed that this pattern held even when controlling for individual-level variation in political orientation, gender, education, and age. These results highlight the utility of a functional evolutionary approach to understanding patterns of morals across societies and individuals. (C) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-437
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume33
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Behavioral immune system
  • Collectivism
  • Disease
  • Moral foundations
  • Morality
  • Pathogen prevalence
  • DISEASE-RELEVANT ANIMALS
  • PERCEIVED VULNERABILITY
  • AVOIDANCE MECHANISMS
  • PARASITE PREVALENCE
  • DISGUST
  • BEHAVIOR
  • PERSONALITY
  • ATTITUDES
  • ORIGINS
  • CULTURE

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