© 2013

Altruism in Cross-Cultural Perspective

  • Douglas A. Vakoch

Part of the International and Cultural Psychology book series (ICUP)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvi
  2. Sandi W. Smith, Maria Knight Lapinski, Mary J. Bresnahan, Stacy L. Smith
    Pages 17-29
  3. Yueh-Ting Lee, Wenting Chen, Sydney Xinni Chan
    Pages 85-100
  4. Garry Chick
    Pages 139-149
  5. Lewis Aptekar
    Pages 151-157
  6. Stephen G. Post, Matthew T. Lee
    Pages 159-163
  7. Back Matter
    Pages 165-180

About this book


Doing for others--altruism--is arguably one of the most human of our activities. Arguable too are the origins of altruism: biology, psychology, culture, all of the above? Researchers have been exploring all three in intriguing lines of inquiry. But as the world grows smaller, culture grows as a major dimension in how, and why, people help others.

The contributors to Altruism in Cross-Cultural Perspective employ a wealth of methods to examine selfless acts on a global scale. Extensive discussions help to define this elusive concept, in some cases expanding it to include empathy, cooperation, generosity, and Eastern and Western spirituality. Considerations of gender, urban/rural life, family relationships, and other key variables are included, as are relevant findings from evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. And inroads are made in answering such longstanding questions as why altruistic acts in one culture may not be perceived as such in others, and the costs of altruism to those who give. Among the topics featured: 

  • Cultural values and volunteering: A cross-cultural perspective.
  • Embracing the biosphere: Altruism in Indian religions.
  • Cultural variations: Traditional parental manipulation and ancestor-descendant conflict.
  • Do we really like the kind girls and animals?: Altruism in folktales.
  • Daoism and altruism: A China-USA perspective.
  • Mesoamerican religious festivals: Altruism in human ritual.
  • To give or not to give?: Confessions of a humanitarian aid worker.

Altruism in Cross-Cultural Perspective is timely reading for cross-cultural scholars and researchers of altruism and other pro-social behavior. Researchers from various disciplines will be especially interested in the book, including psychology, anthropology, sociology, biology, communication, philosophy, religious studies, gender studies, and bioethics.


Altruism across Social Groups Altruism in human ritual Altruism in religion Altruism in ritual Altruistic Behavior Altruistic Behavior Coding Scheme Cross-Cultural Research Cross-cultural research on altruism Daosit Altruism Dualistic Cosmogonies Genesis and Evolution of Altruistic Motifs Human Altruism Indian perspectives on selflessness National Altruism Study Spiritual Altruism Wateristic Personality altruistic stories cross-cultural commonalities oral narratives

Editors and affiliations

  • Douglas A. Vakoch
    • 1
  1. 1.California Institute of Integral StudiesSETI Institute, Center for SETI ResearchMountain ViewUSA

About the editors

Douglas A. Vakoch is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, as well as Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute. His research spans the fields of psychology, anthropology, and space sciences, and his books include Psychology of Space Exploration: Contemporary Research in Historical Perspective (NASA, 2011), On Orbit and Beyond: Psychological Perspectives on Human Spaceflight (Springer, 2012), Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication (NASA, 2012), Astrobiology, History, and Society: Extraterrestrial Life and the Impact of Discovery (Springer, 2013), and Between Worlds: The Art and Science of Interstellar Message Composition (MIT Press, 2013). Dr. Vakoch chaired the symposium ―Altruism in Cross-Cultural Perspective‖ at the 34th Annual Conference of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research, which brought together researchers from anthropology, psychology, sociology, medicine, and public health for the first in-depth discussion of altruism across cultures. He has been a faculty participant in two separate month-long summer seminars sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation: ―Biology and Purpose: Altruism, Morality, and Human Nature in Evolutionary Theory‖ and ―Works of Love: Scientific and Theological Perspectives on Altruism.‖ Dr. Vakoch has served on the Executive Committee of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research, which brings together psychologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists to foster interdisciplinary dialogue and research. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Ecopsychology, and he serves as general editor for Berghahn Books’ Ecofeminist Theory and Practice Series, which includes his own book, Ecofeminism and Rhetoric: Critical Perspectives on Sex, Technology, and Discourse (2011).

Bibliographic information


"Based on a symposium on the same theme held in connection with the 34th Annual Conference of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research, February 23–27, 2005, at Santa Fe, NM, and convened by the volume’s editor, the book contains contributions by 21 authors of different nationalities in 13 chapters, 7 of which are based on papers originally presented at this conference. While a “Foreword” by senior cross-cultural psychologist Harry C. Triandis (vii–xi) aptly leads into the subject matter, the “Afterword” (chapter 13, pp. 159–63), by Steven G. Post and Matthew T. Lee, concludes that “other-regarding behaviors are without exception endorsed in all major world religions and in the world cultures that have grown up around them” (p. 159) which allows us to assume that altruism is “a universal value” indeed (p. 163). (Post is a physician and Lee a sociologist, and both are engaged in the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, Stony Brook, NY.)...Short biographical notes about the contributors (pp. 165–71) and the editor (p. 173) as well as a general index (pp. 175–80) conclude this book, which is a high-quality tool for cross-cultural studies of altruism and beyond."
Christopher H. Grundmann
Zygon, vol. 49, no. 1, March 2014

"Altruism in Cross-Cultural Perspective provides a multidisciplinary effort to examine human altruism cross-culturally. The authors of the 11 chapters plus epilogue and afterword come from a variety of disciplines: Psychology and anthropology are well represented, with additional contributions from social work, philosophy, theology, and education. Other chapter authors come from communication, folklore studies, English literature, public health, recreation and tourism, and ecology and environmental sciences. The multidisciplinary breadth of this volume results from its origination as a symposium conducted at the 34th Annual Conference of the Society for Cross Cultural Research convened in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in February 2005. The pioneering work of Daniel Batson on altruism provides a foundation for the book and a common thread running through many of the chapters (Batson, 2011, 2012)...This book should be of interest to both students and professionals concerned with gaining a broader understanding of altruism in cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary perspectives. As noted above, it builds on the pioneering work of Batson and complements other recent work on altruism (Knafo & Israel, 2012; Midlarsky, Mullin, & Barkin, 2012; Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, & Schroeder, 2005; Snyder & Dwyer, 2013)."
John M. Davis
April 28, 2014, Vol. 59, No. 17, Article 8