All Around the World, Caring for Family Is What Motivates People Most

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International study including 27 countries shows people prioritize loved ones over everything else.

Across the globe, caring for loved ones is what matters most.

But, for decades this has not been the focus of many social psychology studies. An international team of researchers led by evolutionary and social psychologists from Arizona State University surveyed over 7,000 people from 27 different countries about what motivates them, and the findings go against 40 years of research. The study will be published on December 3, 2019, in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

“People consistently rated kin care and mate retention as the most important motivations in their lives, and we found this over and over, in all 27 countries that participated,” said Ahra Ko, an ASU psychology graduate student and first author on the paper. “The findings replicated in regions with collectivistic cultures, such as Korea and China, and in regions with individualistic cultures like Europe and the US.”

The study included people from diverse countries — ranging from Australia and Bulgaria to Thailand and Uganda — that covered all continents except Antarctica. The ASU team sent a survey about fundamental motivations to scientists in each of the participating countries. Then, the researchers in each country translated the questions into the native language and made edits so that all the questions were culturally appropriate.

For the past 40 years, evolutionary psychological research has focused on how people find romantic or sexual partners and how this desire affects other behaviors, like consumer decisions. But study participants consistently rated this motivation — called mate seeking — as the least important factor in their lives.

Evolutionary psychologists define kin care as caring for and supporting family members, and mate retention as maintaining long-term committed romantic or sexual relationships. These two motivations were the most important even in groups of people thought to prioritize finding new romantic and sexual partnerships, like young adults and people not in committed relationships.

“The focus on mate seeking in evolutionary psychology is understandable, given the importance of reproduction. Another reason for the overemphasis on initial attraction is that college students have historically been the majority of participants,” said Cari Pick, an ASU psychology graduate student and second author on the paper. “College students do appear to be relatively more interested in finding sexual and romantic partners than other groups of people.”

In all 27 countries, singles prioritized finding new partners more than people in committed relationships, and men ranked mate seeking higher than women. But, the differences between these groups were small because of the overall priority given to kin care.

“Studying attraction is easy and sexy, but people’s everyday interests are actually more focused on something more wholesome — family values,” said Douglas Kenrick, President’s Professor of Psychology at ASU and senior author on the study. “Everybody cares about their family and loved ones the most, which, surprisingly, hasn’t been as carefully studied as a motivator of human behavior.”

The motivations of mate seeking and kin care were also related to psychological well-being, but in opposite ways. People who ranked mate seeking as the most important were less satisfied with their lives and were more likely to be depressed or anxious. People who ranked kin care and long-term relationships as the most important rated their lives as more satisfying.

“People might think they will be happy with numerous sexual partners, but really they are happiest taking care of the people they already have,” Kenrick said.

The research team is currently working on collecting information about the relationships among fundamental motivations and well-being around the world.

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ASU’s Michael Varnum, associate professor of psychology, along with Jung Yul Kwon, Michael Barlev, Jaimie Krems and Rebecca Neel also contributed to the study. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

1 Comment on "All Around the World, Caring for Family Is What Motivates People Most"

  1. And what a shame it is that ‘family’ can be so easily substituted. Get a divorce, create new ‘family, have instant ‘new family.’ States drag a family thru family court as directed by family case workers and VIOLA, no family! Grandparents become life long care givers for grandchildren even tho the stresses are tremendous, and if only one grandparent, usually Granny, the stresses aren’t relieved as there is no other adult to respond with. Children with ADHD, Autism. low IQ of 85 to 95, LD and other restrictions to learning mean that their responses are either euphoria when agreed with or anger when they are not. Even teachers cannot deal successfully as the programs to be followed are specifically designed to have the care givers narrowly tread the calm, unexcitable demeanor no matter what the provocation as this is the goal; to create low stress environments. As noted in the WIKI analysis of the book SonRise, this is impossible 24-7 and would require multiple inputs. The child does not ‘get well’ in one school year as hoped; every year, every single year requires the same extreme measures which is why is doesn’t happen. Only consistent low stress environments as with a financial secure family with a large home with access to multiple assistants can provide low stress. Adults with significant brain impairments passing thru low stress environments to adulthood have the opportunity to find support for other adults not offered in childhood school classes.

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