Human Nature

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 410–429 | Cite as

What Can Cross-Cultural Correlations Teach Us about Human Nature?

  • Thomas V. Pollet
  • Joshua M. Tybur
  • Willem E. Frankenhuis
  • Ian J. Rickard


Many recent evolutionary psychology and human behavioral ecology studies have tested hypotheses by examining correlations between variables measured at a group level (e.g., state, country, continent). In such analyses, variables collected for each aggregation are often taken to be representative of the individuals present within them, and relationships between such variables are presumed to reflect individual-level processes. There are multiple reasons to exercise caution when doing so, including: (1) the ecological fallacy, whereby relationships observed at the aggregate level do not accurately represent individual-level processes; (2) non-independence of data points, which violates assumptions of the inferential techniques used in null hypothesis testing; and (3) cross-cultural non-equivalence of measurement (differences in construct validity between groups). We provide examples of how each of these gives rise to problems in the context of testing evolutionary hypotheses about human behavior, and we offer some suggestions for future research.


Ecological fallacy Cross-cultural research Research methods Simpson’s paradox Non-independence Measurement equivalence 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas V. Pollet
    • 1
  • Joshua M. Tybur
    • 1
  • Willem E. Frankenhuis
    • 2
  • Ian J. Rickard
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Social and Organizational PsychologyVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Behavioural Science InstituteRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenNetherlands
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyDurham UniversityDurhamUK

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