Not My Culture

Kevin Lewis

July 13, 2021

Self-Interest Bias in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Cultural Comparison between the United States and China
Mengchen Dong et al.
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, forthcoming


In the global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries attempt to enforce new social norms to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. A key to the success of these measures is the individual adherence to norms that are collectively beneficial to contain the spread of the pandemic. However, individuals’ self-interest bias (i.e., the prevalent tendency to license own but not others’ self-serving acts or norm violations) can pose a challenge to the success of such measures. The current research examines COVID-19-related self-interest bias from a cross-cultural perspective. Two studies (N = 1,558) sampled from the United States and China consistently revealed that participants from the United States evaluated their own self-serving acts (exploiting test kits in Study 1; social gathering and sneezing without covering the mouth in public in Study 2) as more acceptable than identical deeds of others, while such self-interest bias did not emerge among Chinese participants. Cultural underpinnings of independent versus interdependent self-construal may influence the extent to which individuals apply self-interest bias to justifications of their own self-serving behaviors during the pandemic.

Conspiracy Theories and Institutional Trust: Examining the Role of Uncertainty Avoidance and Active Social Media Use
Silvia Mari et al.
Political Psychology, forthcoming


A generalized climate of distrust in political institutions is not functional to healthy democracies. With the advent of social media, recent scholarly efforts attempt to better understand people's conspiracy theory beliefs in inhibiting institutional trust. This study contributes to this literature by considering the direct antecedent effects of uncertainty avoidance and the moderating role of active social media use -- SMU (i.e., interactional SMU, informational SMU, and political expressive SMU). The former is theorized to enable conspiracy theories to thrive, while the latter should cushion the negative effects of conspiracy beliefs on institutional trust. Relying on diverse survey data across different cultures from Europe, the Americas, and New Zealand (N = 11,958) and applying structural equation modeling, findings supported the hypothesized model. In high uncertainty-avoidance societies, where less well-known situations are perceived as uncomfortable or downright threatening, conspiracy beliefs proliferate and negatively impact institutional trust. Active SMU attenuates these effects. Via social media, citizens have the ability to strengthen social relationships (interactional SMU), keep themselves informed about the community (informational SMU), and engage in political self-expression (political expressive SMU), which mitigate conspiracy-belief negative effects on institutional trust. Future research implications and key limitations of the study are all discussed.

Why Imaginary Worlds? The psychological foundations and cultural evolution of fictions with imaginary worlds
Edgar Dubourg & Nicolas Baumard
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, forthcoming


Imaginary worlds are extremely successful. The most popular fictions produced in the last decades contain such a fictional world. They can be found in all fictional media, from novels (e.g., Lord of The Ring, Harry Potter) to films (e.g., Star Wars, Avatar), video games (e.g., The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy), graphic novels (e.g., One piece, Naruto) and TV series (e.g., Star Trek, Game of Thrones), and they date as far back as ancient literature (e.g., the Cyclops Islands in The Odyssey, 850 BCE). Why such a success? Why so much attention devoted to nonexistent worlds? In this article, we propose that imaginary worlds co-opt our preferences for exploration, which have evolved in humans and non-human animals alike, to propel individuals toward new environments and new sources of reward. Humans would find imaginary worlds very attractive for the very same reasons, and under the same circumstances, as they are lured by unfamiliar environments in real life. After reviewing research on exploratory preferences in behavioral ecology, environmental aesthetics, neuroscience, and evolutionary and developmental psychology, we focus on the sources of their variability across time and space, which we argue can account for the variability of the cultural preference for imaginary worlds. This hypothesis can therefore explain the way imaginary worlds evolved culturally, their shape and content, their recent striking success, and their distribution across time and populations.

Streetonomics: Quantifying culture using street names
Melanie Bancilhon et al.
PLoS ONE, June 2021


Quantifying a society’s value system is important because it suggests what people deeply care about—it reflects who they actually are and, more importantly, who they will like to be. This cultural quantification has been typically done by studying literary production. However, a society’s value system might well be implicitly quantified based on the decisions that people took in the past and that were mediated by what they care about. It turns out that one class of these decisions is visible in ordinary settings: it is visible in street names. We studied the names of 4,932 honorific streets in the cities of Paris, Vienna, London and New York. We chose these four cities because they were important centers of cultural influence for the Western world in the 20th century. We found that street names greatly reflect the extent to which a society is gender biased, which professions are considered elite ones, and the extent to which a city is influenced by the rest of the world. This way of quantifying a society’s value system promises to inform new methodologies in Digital Humanities; makes it possible for municipalities to reflect on their past to inform their future; and informs the design of everyday’s educational tools that promote historical awareness in a playful way.

Explaining cross-cultural variation in mirror self-recognition: New insights into the ontogeny of objective self-awareness
Senay Cebioğlu & Tanya Broesch
Developmental Psychology, May 2021, Pages 625–638


Mirror self-recognition (MSR) is considered to be the benchmark of objective self-awareness — the ability to think about oneself. Cross-cultural research showed that there are systematic differences in toddlers’ MSR abilities between 18 and 24 months. Understanding whether these differences result from systematic variation in early social experiences will help us understand the processes through which objective self-awareness develops. In this study, we examined 57 18- to 22-month-old toddlers (31 girls) and their mothers from two distinct sociocultural contexts: urban Canada (58% of the subsample were Canadian-born native English-speakers) and rural Vanuatu, a small-scale island society located in the South Pacific. We had two main goals: (a) to identify the social-interactional correlates of MSR ability in this cross-cultural sample, and (b) to examine whether differences in passing rates could be attributed to confounding factors. Consistent with previous cross-cultural research, ni-Vanuatu toddlers passed the MSR test at significantly lower rates (7%) compared to their Canadian counterparts (68%). Among a suite of social interactive variables, only mothers’ imitation of their toddlers’ behavior during a free play session predicted MSR in the entire sample and maternal imitation partially mediated the effects of culture on MSR. In addition, low passing rates among ni-Vanuatu toddlers could not be attributed to reasons unrelated to self-development (i.e., motivation to show mark-directed behavior, understanding mirror-correspondence, representational thinking). This suggests that differences in MSR passing rates reflect true differences in self-recognition, and that parental imitation may have an important role in shaping the construction of visual self-knowledge in toddlers.

Are Preschoolers’ Neurobiological Stress Systems Responsive to Culturally Relevant Contexts?
Ka I Ip et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Adults are biologically responsive to context, and their responses to particular situations may differ across cultures. However, are preschoolers’ biological systems also responsive to situational contexts and cultures? Here, we show that children’s neurobiological stress responses, as indexed by salivary cortisol, are activated and responsive to psychosocial stressors relevant to their sociocultural emphases. By examining cortisol changes across different contexts among 138 preschoolers living in the United States, China, and Japan, we found that an achievement-related stressor elicited an increased cortisol response among Chinese preschoolers, whereas interpersonal-related stressors elicited an increased cortisol response among Japanese preschoolers. By contrast, U.S. preschoolers showed decreased cortisol responses after these stressors but consistently higher levels of anticipatory responses to separation at the beginning of each session. Our findings suggest that children’s neurobiological stress systems may be a critical biological mechanism allowing societal-level cultural phenomena to be embodied in individual-level responses, even among preschoolers.

Childless Aristocrats: Inheritance and the Extensive Margin of Fertility
Paula Gobbi & Marc Goñi
Economic Journal, July 2021, Pages 2089–2118


Using genealogical data of British aristocrats, we show that inheritances can affect childlessness. We study settlements, a contract restricting heirs’ powers and settling bequests for yet-to-be-born generations. Settlements reduced childlessness to the ‘natural’ rate, ensuring aristocratic dynasties’ survival. Our estimation exploits that settlements were signed at the heir’s wedding if the family head lived until this date. Whether the heir was born after a girl provides as-good-as-random assignment into settlements. Next, we develop a theory that reproduces our findings, shows that exponential discounting cannot rationalise inheritance systems restricting heirs and that inheritance systems can emerge endogenously when fertility concerns exist.

Fancy shoes and painful feet: Hallux valgus and fracture risk in medieval Cambridge, England
Jenna Dittmar et al.
International Journal of Paleopathology, forthcoming

Objective: Hallux valgus, the lateral deviation of the great toe, can result in poor balance, impaired mobility and is an independent risk factor for falls. This research aims to compare the prevalence of hallux valgus in subpopulations of medieval Cambridge, England, and to examine the relationship between hallux valgus and fractures to examine the impact of impaired mobility and poor balance caused by this condition.

Materials: 177 adult individuals from four cemeteries located in Cambridge, England.

Results: Hallux valgus was identified in 18 % of individuals and was significantly more common during the 14th–15th centuries than the 11th–13th centuries. The highest prevalence was observed in the friary (43 %), followed by the Hospital (23 %), the rurban parish cemetery (10 %), and the rural parish cemetery (3%). Fractures from falls were significantly more common in those with hallux valgus than those without.

Conclusion: The increased prevalence of hallux valgus identified in individuals from the 14th to 15th centuries coincided with the adoption of new footwear with pointed toes. Those that adopted this fashion trend appear to have been more likely to develop balance and mobility problems that resulted in an increased risk of falls.

Collectivism is associated with enhanced neural response to socially salient errors among adolescents
Amy Rapp et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming


The perceived salience of errors can be influenced by individual-level motivational factors. Specifically, those who endorse a high degree of collectivism, a cultural value that emphasizes prioritization of interpersonal relationships, may find errors occurring in a social context to be more aversive than individuals who endorse collectivism to a lesser degree, resulting in upregulation of a neural correlate of error-monitoring, the error-related negativity (ERN). This study aimed to identify cultural variation in neural response to errors occurring in a social context in a sample of diverse adolescents. It was predicted that greater collectivism would be associated with enhanced neural response to errors occurring as part of a team. Participants were 95 Latinx (n = 35), Asian American (n = 20) and non-Latinx White (n = 40) adolescents (ages 13–17) who completed a go/no-go task while continuous electroencephalogram was recorded. The task included social (team) and non-social (individual) conditions. ERN was quantified using mean amplitude measures. Regression models demonstrated that collectivism modulated neural response to errors occurring in a social context, an effect that was most robust for Latinx adolescents. Understanding cultural variation in neural sensitivity to social context could inform understanding of both normative and maladaptive processes associated with self-regulation.


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