Recent studies have proposed that social norms play a key role in motivating human cooperation and in explaining the unique scale and cultural diversity of our prosociality. However, there have been few studies that directly link social norms to the form, development and variation in prosocial behaviour across societies. In a cross-cultural study of eight diverse societies, we provide evidence that (1) the prosocial behaviour of adults is predicted by what other members of their society judge to be the correct social norm, (2) the responsiveness of children to novel social norms develops similarly across societies and (3) societally variable prosocial behaviour develops concurrently with the responsiveness of children to norms in middle childhood. These data support the view that the development of prosocial behaviour is shaped by a psychology for responding to normative information, which itself develops universally across societies.
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All data supporting the findings of this study are provided in the Supplementary Code and data.
All code supporting the findings of this study are provided in the Supplementary Code and data.
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We thank C. Ross for assistance with statistical methods, and the staff of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University for support. This research was funded by a grant (grant no. 48952) from the John Templeton Foundation to the Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University. The opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. This research was also funded by a Freigeist Fellowship from the Volkswagen Foundation to P.K. (grant no. 89611) and a SSHRC Doctoral Scholarship to S.L.-L. (award no. 752-2016-0555). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results, Supplementary Figs. 1–14 and Supplementary Tables 1–10.
All datasets and R code for statistical analyses and figures.
All video stimuli used across the different experimental conditions.
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House, B.R., Kanngiesser, P., Barrett, H.C. et al. Universal norm psychology leads to societal diversity in prosocial behaviour and development. Nat Hum Behav 4, 36–44 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0734-z
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