Human Nature

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 567–579 | Cite as

Impartial Institutions, Pathogen Stress and the Expanding Social Network

  • Daniel HruschkaEmail author
  • Charles Efferson
  • Ting Jiang
  • Ashlan Falletta-Cowden
  • Sveinn Sigurdsson
  • Rita McNamara
  • Madeline Sands
  • Shirajum Munira
  • Edward Slingerland
  • Joseph Henrich


Anthropologists have documented substantial cross-society variation in people’s willingness to treat strangers with impartial, universal norms versus favoring members of their local community. Researchers have proposed several adaptive accounts for these differences. One variant of the pathogen stress hypothesis predicts that people will be more likely to favor local in-group members when they are under greater infectious disease threat. The material security hypothesis instead proposes that institutions that permit people to meet their basic needs through impartial interactions with strangers reinforce a tendency toward impartiality, whereas people lacking such institutions must rely on local community members to meet their basic needs. Some studies have examined these hypotheses using self-reported preferences, but not with behavioral measures. We conducted behavioral experiments in eight diverse societies that measure individuals’ willingness to favor in-group members by ignoring an impartial rule. Consistent with the material security hypothesis, members of societies enjoying better-quality government services and food security show a stronger preference for following an impartial rule over investing in their local in-group. Our data show no support for the pathogen stress hypothesis as applied to favoring in-groups and instead suggest that favoring in-group members more closely reflects a general adaptive fit with social institutions that have arisen in each society.


Institutions Parochialism Insecurity Parasite Pathogen Cross-cultural analysis 



DJH acknowledges support from the University of Chicago and Templeton Foundation New Science of Virtues Grant as well as support from the National Science Foundation grant BCS-1150813, jointly funded by the Programs in Cultural Anthropology, Social Psychology Program and Decision, Risk, and Management Sciences. JH acknowledges support from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). CE acknowledges the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant no. 100014_130127/1 on the Social Dynamics of Normative Behavior). TJ acknowledges the financial support of the Mozaiek grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and financial support of the Goldstone Research Fund.

Supplementary material

12110_2014_9217_MOESM1_ESM.docx (782 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 782 KB)


  1. Alesina, A., Devleeschauwer, A., Easterly, W., Kurlat, S., & Wacziarg, R. (2003). Fractionalization. Journal of Economic Growth, 8, 155–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Smollan, D. (1992). Inclusion of other in the self scale and the structure of interpersonal closeness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Banfield, E. C. (1958). The moral basis of a backward society. Glencoe: Free Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bateson, M., Nettle, D., & Roberts, G. (2006). Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting. Biology Letters, 2, 412–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bowles, S. (1998). Endogenous preferences: the cultural consequences of markets and other economic institutions. Journal of Economic Literature, 36, 75–111.Google Scholar
  6. Bowles, S. (2011). Is liberal society a parasite on tradition? Philosophy and Public Affairs, 39, 46–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (2004). Persistent parochialism: trust and exclusion in ethnic networks. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 55, 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buchan, N. R., Grimalda, G., Wilson, R., Brewer, M., Fatas, E., & Foddy, M. (2009). Globalization and human cooperation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106, 4138–4142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cashdan, E., and Steele, M. (2013). Pathogen prevalence, group bias, and collectivism in the standard cross-cultural sample. Human Nature:1–17.Google Scholar
  10. Dunbar, R. (2008). Cognitive constraints on the structure and dynamics of social networks. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 12, 7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fershtman, C., Gneezy, U., & Verboven, F. (2005). Discrimination and nepotism: the efficiency of the anonymity rule. The Journal of Legal Studies, 34, 371–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fincher, C. L., & Thornhill, R. (2012). Parasite-stress promotes in-group assortative sociality: the cases of strong family ties and heightened religiosity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 35, 61–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fincher, C. L., Thornhill, R., Murray, D. R., & Schaller, M. (2008). Pathogen prevalence predicts human cross-cultural variability in individualism/collectivism. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 275, 1279–1285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity. Chicago: Free Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gelfand, M. J. (2011). Differences between tight and loose cultures: a 33-nation study. Science, 32, 1100–1104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Giuliano, P., & Alesina, A. (2010). The power of family. Journal of Economic Growth, 15, 93–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Greene, J. D., & Paxton, J. M. (2009). Patterns of neural activity associated with honest and dishonest moral decisions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106, 12506–12511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Greif, A. (1994). Cultural beliefs and the organization of society. The Journal of Political Economy, 102, 912–950.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Heine, S. J., Proulx, T., & Vohs, K. D. (2006). The meaning maintenance model: on the coherence of social motivations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 88–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Henrich, J., Ensminger, J., McElreath, R., Barr, A., Barrett, C., Bolyanatz, A., Cardenas, J. C., Gurven, M., Gwako, E., Henrich, N., Lesorogol, C., Marlowe, F., Tracer, D., & Ziker, J. (2010). Markets, religion, community size, and the evolution of fairness and punishment. Science, 327, 1480–1484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hruschka, D. J. (2010). Friendship: Development, ecology and evolution of a relationship. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hruschka, D. J., & Henrich, J. (2013). Institutions, parasites and the persistence of in-group preferences. PLoS ONE, 8, e63642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Inglehart, R., & Welzel, C. (2005). Modernization, cultural change, and democracy: The human development sequence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Jiang, T. (2013). Cheating in mind games: the subtlety of rules matters. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 93, 328–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kaplan, H., Gurven, M., & Hill, K. (2005). A natural history of food sharing and cooperation: a review and a new multi-individual approach to the negotiation of norms. In H. Gintis, S. Bowles, R. Boyd, & E. Fehr (Eds.), Moral sentiments and material interests (pp. 75–113). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  26. Kranton, R. E. (1996). Reciprocal exchange: a self-sustaining system. The American Economic Review, 86, 830–851.Google Scholar
  27. Mathew, S., & Boyd, R. (2011). Punishment sustains large-scale cooperation in prestate warfare. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 11375–11380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2001). Attachment theory and intergroup bias: evidence that priming the secure base schema attenuates negative reactions to out-groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 97–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Navarrete, C. D., & Fessler, D. M. T. (2005). Normative bias and adaptive challenges: a relational approach to coalitional psychology and a critique of terror management theory. Evolutionary Psychology, 3, 297–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Navarrete, C. D., Kurzban, R., Fessler, D. M. T., & Kirkpatrick, L. A. (2004). Anxiety and intergroup bias: terror management or coalitional psychology? Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 7, 370–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Newson, L., & Richerson, P. J. (2009). Why do people become modern? A Darwinian explanation. Population and Development Review, 35, 117–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Parsons, T., & Shils, E. (1951). Toward a general theory of action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (2001). Institutional evolution in the Holocene: the rise of complex societies. Proceedings of the British Academcy, 110, 197–234.Google Scholar
  34. Schaller, M. (2011). The behavioural immune system and the psychology of human sociality. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 366, 3418–3426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sugiyama, L. S. (2004). Illness, injury and disability among Shiwiar forager-horticulturalists: implications of health-risk buffering for the evolution of human life history. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 123, 371–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Treisman, D. (2000). The causes of corruption: a cross-national study. Journal of Public Economics, 76, 399–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Triandis, H. C. (1995). Individualism and collectivism. Boulder: Westview.Google Scholar
  38. Van de Vliert, E. (2011). Climato-economic origins of variation in ingroup favoritism. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 42, 494–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. World Bank. 2011. World Bank indicators. Accessed online at

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Hruschka
    • 1
    Email author
  • Charles Efferson
    • 2
  • Ting Jiang
    • 3
  • Ashlan Falletta-Cowden
    • 4
  • Sveinn Sigurdsson
    • 5
  • Rita McNamara
    • 6
  • Madeline Sands
    • 7
  • Shirajum Munira
    • 8
  • Edward Slingerland
    • 6
  • Joseph Henrich
    • 6
  1. 1.School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  4. 4.The Field MuseumChicagoUSA
  5. 5.Yale New Haven HospitalNew HavenUSA
  6. 6.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  7. 7.School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  8. 8.LAMB Project for Integrated Health and DevelopmentParbatipurBangladesh

Personalised recommendations