Generosity from an Intercultural Perspective

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Principal Investigator: Pamela Paxton, University of Texas at Austin

Social scientific explanations for individual differences in prosocial behavior often focus on personal or situational factors, rarely examining their interplay. And focus on the situation often explores local micro-contexts while neglecting larger societal forces that shape both individual dispositions and situational characteristics. This project will examine generosity across multiple levels, arguing that a fuller understanding of generosity requires connecting individual orientations toward generosity and choices to behave generously with the wider economic, political, and cultural environment in which both are embedded.

The research on this project will use multilevel models. Two large longitudinal cross-national surveys form the backbone of its proposed analyses. The World Values Survey (WVS) is a worldwide survey of attitudes with information on individuals in 90 countries in five different time periods. The European Social Survey (ESS) is a survey of Western and Eastern Europe with information on individuals in 32 countries in four different time periods. The two surveys ask a range of questions covering generosity orientations and behaviors, and both allow a series of research questions.

First, by using multiple surveys and multiple measures of generosity, this project should produce a more comprehensive picture of cross-cultural differences in generosity behaviors and orientations and their individual-level determinants than has been possible before. Second, researchers will examine how the social, economic, and political structures of nations affect generosity. They will assess, for instance, whether or not extensive welfare states “crowd out” individual level generosity or, alternatively, support the valuation of generosity by modeling generous behavior. Third, their analyses will address how dispositions influence behaviors and whether or not the relationship between disposition and behavior depends on context. For example, an orientation to generosity may have different effects on generous behavior in contexts of high and low generalized trust.

The research models used in this project will compare countries within a given year, examine temporal change within a given country and study temporal changes across countries. The project offers an extensive, large-scale, cross-national investigation of generosity orientations and behaviors. A multi-dimensional view of generosity and the use of multiple measures should benefit the study of generosity by offering a comprehensive presentation of cross-cultural differences in both generosity orientations and behaviors.