Cross-Cultural Variation in Cooperation: A Meta-Analysis

Giuliana Spadaro*, Caroline Graf, Shuxian Jin, Sakura Arai, Yukako Inoue, Eleanor Lieberman, Maria Isabela Rinderu, Mingliang Yuan, Caspar J. van Lissa, Daniel Balliet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Impersonal cooperation among strangers enables societies to create valuable public goods, such as infrastructure, public services, and democracy. Several factors have been proposed to explain variation in impersonal cooperation across societies, referring to institutions (e.g., rule of law), religion (e.g., belief in God as a third-party punisher), cultural beliefs (e.g., trust) and values (e.g., collectivism), and ecology (e.g., relational mobility). We tested 17 preregistered hypotheses in a meta-analysis of 1,506 studies of impersonal cooperation in social dilemmas (e.g., the Public Goods Game) conducted across 70 societies (k = 2,271), where people make costly decisions to cooperate among strangers. After controlling for 10 study characteristics that can affect the outcome of studies, we found very little cross-societal variation in impersonal cooperation. Categorizing societies into cultural groups explained no variance in cooperation. Similarly, cultural, ancestral, and linguistic distance between societies explained little variance in cooperation. None of the cross-societal factors hypothesized to relate to impersonal cooperation explained variance in cooperation across societies. We replicated these conclusions when meta-analyzing 514 studies across 41 states and nine regions in the United States (k = 783). Thus, we observed that impersonal cooperation occurred in all societies—and to a similar degree across societies—suggesting that prior research may have overemphasized the magnitude of differences between modern societies in impersonal cooperation.Wediscuss

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1024-1088
Number of pages65
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work was supported by a European Research Council—Starting Grant (#635356) awarded to Daniel Balliet.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Psychological Association


  • Cooperation
  • Culture
  • Ecology
  • Institutions
  • Meta-analysis


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