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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The World Cultures eJournal welcomes articles, data, and comparative research material dealing with any aspect of human behavior. Publication of any comparative database, regional or worldwide, will be considered. Submissions of programs and teaching materials are welcomed, as are communications on research, coding, sources, and other materials of interests to comparative researchers.


The Motor of Growth? Parental Investment and per capita GDP

Parental investment represents expenditures of time and resources for the purpose of increasing the biological fitness of one’s offspring. We examine whether parental investment has incidental effects on per capita GDP, using a cross-section of 209 countries and territories. Our work is a revisiting of a 2002 paper by Nigel Barber, with some notable methodological improvements: we use a spatial lag model to control for Galton’s problem, use multiple imputation to handle the issue of missing data, and consider the implications of endogeneity. Our results show that variations in parental investment explain nearly half of the variation in per capita GDP. We find the role of health investments to be especially critical: increases in offspring health raise the rate of return to parental investment, which prompts even more investment, creating a deviation-amplifying process.

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Application of the Altruistic Behavior Coding Scheme to Cross-Cultural Contexts

Smith and Smith claimed that altruistic action “is intended to benefit others beyond simple sociability or duties associated with role.” This definition will need to be carefully applied to behavior in communal cultures as they have extended obligation networks, the basis of which are expected helping behaviors offered to others in the network. Therefore, behaviors that would be captured by the coding scheme in an individualistic culture would not necessarily be seen as altruistic in a communal culture as they may be non-voluntary and role-related. Six components of altruistic behavior are addressed here, and two of these are predicted to differ according to the culture in which they are enacted. These are determining whether the act was motivated by a primary concern for the other and whether the actor would be likely to engage in self blame if he or she did not engage in the action. The other three components of altruistic behavior are postulated to operate pan-culturally. They are actual benefit to the recipient, empathy, cost to the initiator, and ease of escape from social censure.

Biocultural Prerequisites for the Development of Advanced Technology

In 1961, astronomer Frank Drake developed an equation to permit the estimation of the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy via the quantification of what he felt to be relevant factors. Drake’s equation contains two terms, fi and fc, that refer, respectively, to the fraction of planets that harbor intelligent life and the fraction of those with intelligent life that develops a technology that would allow communication with other worlds. These are two of the most difficult terms in the equation to estimate and, not surprisingly, a relatively wide range of values has been offered for each. Estimates of the values of the terms depend on a number of conjectures and assumptions. These include aspects of embodiment, such as sensory modalities and faculties to manipulate the environment, and aspects of culture that seem to be crucial for the development of advanced technology. However, the only data on technological development that we have available is from Earth. Several terrestrial species use technologies, although all of these are very simple with the exception of those created by humans. Similarly, a variety of species are now also claimed to have culture, depending on how it is defined. The purpose of this paper is to examine how embodiment, culture, and their interaction, based on their Earthly manifestations, might affect the values of fi and fc.