Cooperation is key to well-functioning groups and societies. Rather than addressing high-cost cooperation involving giving money or time and effort, we examine social mindfulness—a form of interpersonal benevolence that requires basic perspective-taking and is aimed at leaving choice for others. Do societies differ in social mindfulness, and if so, does it matter? Here, we find not only considerable variation across 31 nations and regions but also an association between social mindfulness and countries’ performance on environmental protection. We conclude that something as small and concrete as interpersonal benevolence can be entwined with current and future issues of global importance.Abstract
Humans are social animals, but not everyone will be mindful of others to the same extent. Individual differences have been found, but would social mindfulness also be shaped by one’s location in the world? Expecting cross-national differences to exist, we examined if and how social mindfulness differs across countries. At little to no material cost, social mindfulness typically entails small acts of attention or kindness. Even though fairly common, such low-cost cooperation has received little empirical attention. Measuring social mindfulness across 31 samples from industrialized countries and regions (n = 8,354), we found considerable variation. Among selected country-level variables, greater social mindfulness was most strongly associated with countries’ better general performance on environmental protection. Together, our findings contribute to the literature on prosociality by targeting the kind of everyday cooperation that is more focused on communicating benevolence than on providing material benefits.
Distribution of means for Social Mindedness (SoMi), (click to enlarge)
In the end, what best explains the general picture? Considering all findings, we suggest that SoMi may be conceptualized as a specific and effective expression of social capital, a comprehensive perspective on society with important implications for its development and functioning (30). Following one of the definitions, the economic function of social capital is to diminish the costs of formal coordination tasks by using informal social communication channels. From a relational perspective, such capital materializes through social interactions that include low-cost cooperation. Requiring no monetary or otherwise effortful investments to acknowledge, confirm, and promote high-trust social relationships, SoMi would be specifically set up to do so; the socially mindful person signals benevolence and trustworthiness. A promising connection with social capital is also suggested in the ranking of our locations: Japan, highest on the SoMi list, is traditionally known for stressing the value of social capital, and ranks 12th (of 180) on the Global Sustainable Competiveness Index social capital world index, while Indonesia, lowest on the SoMi list, ranks 70. A simple bivariate correlation without corrections learns that SoMi and social capital scores are associated at r (30) = 0.56, P = 0.002. Although quantifying social capital is difficult, this is corroborated by the relations we found between SoMi and the ensemble of variables lead by EPI and followed by economic indices (GDP, GNI, and Gini), rule of law, power distance, individual and generalized trust, and civic cooperation (tendency only), which all in their own way have been connected to presence and development of social capital. Future research could develop this.