Daniel Hruschka


principal investigator

Daniel Hruschka
Assistant Professor, Anthropology
Arizona State University

Daniel Hruschka is an assistant professor of anthropology at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, and director of the Laboratory of Culture Change and Behavior. He studies culture change and how cultural factors and social institutions affect the health of individuals and societies. His current projects focus on the co-evolution of institutions and helping behavior, the influence of culture on health-seeking in Bangladesh, and the development and testing of formal models of culture change. Hruschka’s work has been published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Ethos and Annals of Human Biology. He is author of the forthcoming book, Friendship: Development, Ecology, and Evolution of a Social Relationship (University of California Press). Before coming to ASU, Hruschka was a postdoctoral fellow at the Santa Fe Institute.



Charles Efferson

Assistant Professor, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics
University of Zurich, Switzerland

Joe Henrich
Associate Professor, Psychology and Economics
University of British Columbia, Canada

Virtues in Conflict: a Cross-Cultural Study of Virtue Dilemmas and their Resolution
People in different places and times often agree on a set of core virtues. However, when faced with competing urges to do good, their choices can vary substantially. Consider the “passenger’s dilemma,” a vignette in which someone is asked to lie under oath to protect a friend from prosecution for having hit a pedestrian. In one cross-cultural study of the dilemma, Venezuelan respondents were seven times more likely than Swiss respondents to say they would violate the virtue of honesty to protect the friend. How individuals regularly resolve such dilemmas in daily life has broad implications for civil society, including the functioning of legal systems and markets and the organization of the welfare state. However, we know very little about the extent or root causes of variation in how people make such choices in different societies. As opposed to most studies of social dilemmas in economics and psychology which focus on conflicts between narrow self-interest and virtuous action, many of the virtue dilemmas we face in daily life require tough choices between competing appeals to our goodwill. In short, many dilemmas are not about being naughty or nice, but rather about how to be nice.

The Virtues in Conflict project asks how people make tough choices between competing social goods—between being loyal or fair, kind or just, obedient or honest—and how cultural, social and economic factors may shape these choices. Little is currently known about the extent or root causes of variation in how people make such choices across different societies. This project reviewed the existing ethnographic record and implemented novel behavioral experiments in eight communities worldwide to answer three related questions: (1) What dilemmas are most commonly faced by people in different places and times? (2) How are such dilemmas resolved in diverse cultural contexts? and (3) How do cultural and ecological conditions influence how people resolve such dilemmas? For the first question, the project team systematically reviewed ethnographic accounts from over 150 societies to develop a coded database of the kinds of social goods valued and esteemed in different parts of the world and when these come into conflict. For the second and third questions, we developed and implemented a behavioral experiment in eight communities across six countries to assess the material security hypothesis. The hypothesis proposes that people will put greater weight on investing in community members (one kind of loyalty) than following unbiased rules of allocation (one kind of fairness) in societies where it is more difficult to meet basic needs of food security, education, and health. The eight-community data collected by the project team are consistent with the material security hypothesis and challenge another recently proposed hypothesis—the pathogen stress hypothesis. As part of these activities, the project has constructed a cross-cultural codebook of social goods and dilemmas, run two protocol development workshops, and generated a dataset of over 500 behavioral experiments implemented in 8 field sites around the world. Based on the findings of the project, team members have given five presentations at international and local venues, have submitted one journal article, and are preparing three additional articles and a book manuscript for publication. The Virtues in Conflict project laid the theoretical and methodological groundwork for a successful proposal to the National Science Foundation that will focus on similar dilemmas in rural Bangladesh. Finally, the project developed a museum exhibit, Choosing the Good, at the Arizona State University Museum of Anthropology which introduces the project and its questions to a broader public audience (February 8 – May 25, 2012). The exhibit has garnered considerable local- and state-level attention, and the project team is currently discussing with the museum staff possibilities for a traveling exhibit after the ASU exhibit closes in May.

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