Everyone Thinks Americans Are Selfish. They’re Wrong

Abigail Marsh: When comparing countries, my colleagues and I found that greater levels of individualism were linked to more generosity — not less — as we detail in a forthcoming article in the journal Psychological Science. For our research, we gathered data from 152 countries concerning seven distinct forms of altruism and generosity. The seven forms included three responses to survey questions administered by Gallup about giving money to charity, volunteering and helping strangers, and four pieces of objective data: per capita donations of blood, bone marrow and organs, and the humane treatment of nonhuman animals (as gauged by the Animal Protection Index). We found that countries that scored highly on one form of altruism tended to score highly on the others, too, suggesting that broad cultural factors were at play. When we looked for factors that were associated with altruism across nations, two in particular stood out: various measures of “flourishing” (including subjectively reported well-being and objective metrics of prosperity, literacy and longevity) and individualism.

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