A massive study spanning 42 countries and approximately 16,000 individuals sought to examine how human psychology differs within and between societies across time, focusing on 11 fundamental social motives. This research was published in Scientific Data.
“I am interested in the idea that many of our daily decisions are driven by deeper social goals that we may not even be aware of—broad social motivations that help us survive and thrive, like finding friends, avoiding contagious disease, strengthening our romantic relationships, or gaining status,” said study author Cari Pick (@Cari_Pick), a High Meadows Post-Doctoral Science Fellow in psychology and visiting scholar at Arizona State University.
“When making many everyday decisions, such as whether to approach a stranger or what to wear today, we are making trade-offs between these different social motivations. Is the stranger a potential new friend, or a potential disease threat? Will my outfit be most appropriate for a professional situation, casual time with friends, or an evening out with my partner? I was interested to know: How might these trade-offs differ for people around the world? Where are the similarities and differences in our fundamental social motive priorities?”
This research was conducted in two waves via convenience sampling, with Wave 1 data collection taking place between mid-2016 and late-2019 (32 countries), and Wave 2 collection from April-November 2020, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic (29 countries), for a total of 15,915 participants. Nineteen countries were captured in both waves of data collection.
Participants completed the fundamental social motives inventory, assessing for 7 categories of motives. These included self-protection (e.g., I think about how to protect myself from dangerous people), disease avoidance (e.g., I avoid places and people that might carry diseases), affiliation (e.g., I enjoy working with a group to accomplish a goal; Having time alone is extremely important to me; I would be extremely hurt if a friend excluded me), status (It’s important to me that others respect my rank or position), mate acquisition (e.g., I am interested in finding a new romantic/sexual partner), mate retention (e.g., It is important to me that my partner is sexually loyal to me; I often think about whether my partner will leave me), kin care (e.g., Caring for family members is important to me; Providing for my children is important to me). Participants also completed measures of life satisfaction, basic need fulfilment, and demographic information. Data on additional variables of interest, such as religion, were collected from a small subset of countries.
The researchers explain that we ought to view cultural variation in terms of fundamental social motives that have evolved as a means of facing universal challenges and opportunities typical of the human experience. They argue that the observed variation in cognitive processes, affect, and behaviors, are adaptive, given that different social motives are activated. For example, the activation of self-protection, as opposed to mate seeking or disease avoidance, has different, though functionally reasonable, influences on attention, aggression, and decision-making, among other variables.
“People around the world face the same important social challenges throughout their lives, including maintaining friendships, gaining status, finding and keeping romantic partnerships, and staying safe,” Pick told PsyPost. “Across people, across countries, and across time, we see that there is much variation in people’s fundamental social motives: the importance placed on tackling these different social challenges. However, the one social motive that seems to be important to most people, around the world and across time, is taking care of and remaining connected to their families.”
“We collected data in many countries and at multiple time points. However, there are factors beyond country and time that may affect the patterns of fundamental social motives we see,” the researcher said. “For example, data in some countries come from university students, and in others from broader community samples: samples that may differ in age or other factors that affect fundamental motive priorities. Also, the data from our two timepoints were not collected from the same individuals, so it is possible that in addition to effects of time and the pandemic, we may see differences in fundamental motives if different types of people tended to participate in the survey at each timepoint. These factors must be considered when interpreting patterns of results.”
Exploratory analyses looked into the clustering of countries based on patterns of fundamental social motives, finding surprising similarities between cultures that are traditionally categorized as quite different. For example, in Wave 2, Colombia and Lebanon clustered with post-communist European societies, while South Korea closely clustered with Canada in both waves. These patterns reveal that fundamental social motives do not cluster around the traditional “West” vs. “Rest” or “Rich” vs. “Poor” categories.
As for future directions, the researcher said, “We have collected a large dataset that we have only just begun to explore. The next set of questions we are interested in addressing is to find out why people in different places may tend to prioritize different motives. What cross-cultural differences, such as cultural values or ecological factors, might lead to differences in people’s tendency to prioritize certain fundamental motives across societies? Do factors like age, gender, and socioeconomic status affect people’s prioritization of fundamental motives in the same ways around the world? This dataset will allow us to begin to answer questions such as these.”
The paper, “Fundamental social motives measured across forty-two cultures in two waves”, was authored by Cari M. Pick, Ahra Ko, Douglas T. Kenrick, Adi Wiezel, Alexandra S. Wormley, Edmond Awad, Laith Al-Shawaf, Oumar Barry, Yoella Bereby-Meyer, Watcharaporn Boonyasiriwat, Eduard Brandstätter, Suzan Ceylan-Batur, Bryan K. C. Choy, Ana Carla Crispim, Julio Eduardo Cruz, Daniel David, Oana A. David, Renata Pereira Defelipe, Pinar Elmas, Agustín Espinosa, Ana Maria Fernandez, Velichko H. Fetvadjiev, Stefka Fetvadjieva, Ronald Fischer, Silvia Galdi, Oscar Javier Galindo-Caballero, Elena V. Golovina, Galina M. Golovina, Luis Gomez-Jacinto, Sylvie Graf, Igor Grossmann, Pelin Gul, Peter Halama, Takeshi Hamamura, Shihui Han, Lina S. Hansson, Hidefumi Hitokoto, Martina Hřebíčková, Darinka Ilic, Jennifer Lee Johnson, Mane Kara-Yakoubian, Johannes A. Karl, Jinseok P. Kim, Michal Kohút, Julie Lasselin, Hwaryung Lee, Norman P. Li, Anthonieta Looman Mafra, Oksana Malanchuk, Simone Moran, Asuka Murata, Jinkyung Na, Serigne Abdou Lahat Ndiaye, Jiaqing O, Ike E. Onyishi, Eddieson Pasay-an, Muhammed Rizwan, Eric Roth, Sergio Salgado, Elena S. Samoylenko, Tatyana N. Savchenko, Catarina Sette, A. Timur Sevincer, Eric Skoog, Adrian Stanciu, Eunkook M. Suh, Daniel Sznycer, Thomas Talhelm, Fabian O. Ugwu, Ayse K. Uskul, Irem Uz, Jaroslava Varella Valentova, Marco Antonio Correa Varella, Liuqing Wei, Danilo Zambrano and Michael E. W. Varnum.