SMASH is a CEU funded project that enables two doctoral fellows to do   interdisciplinary research at the crossroads of the anthropology of morality and psychology of prosociality.  The CEU Joint PhD Fellowship Scheme entails co-supervision by faculty members from the Department of Cognitive Science and Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, who are already engaged in ongoing research in the designated thematic area. One Fellow pursues a PhD in Cognitive Science and the other one a PhD in Sociology and Social Anthropology. The doctoral researchers follow a curriculum that includes courses from both departments being geared towards their acquiring cross-disciplinary training and expertise.


Prosociality and trust have been characterized across the disciplines as essential elements in the constitution of human society and culture. On its part, social anthropology has documented extensively the many forms of prosocial practices—practices that are beneficial to others and costly to the self—take across cultures and the social conditions in which people trust others to act prosocially. In turn, cognitive psychology and behavioral economics have developed theories about the stable preferences, the desires and motivations that lead people to make prosocial choices and to trust others. While studies about prosociality and trust are thriving, they remain to a large extent constrained within the bounds of academic disciplines.


Social anthropology has shown that prosocial practices can take very different forms, from gift exchange to alms giving, and from ritual to everyday life. These practices are integrated in a web of cultural beliefs (moral, religious, economic, political) and shaped by their relation to other social phenomena. Anthropologists studying the socio-cultural factors that foster or sanction prosocial behavior and determine people’s moral judgments would further benefit from understanding the underlying psychological processes. By contrast, psychologists have studied prosocial preferences such as ‘inequity aversion’, ‘preference for fairness’, ‘aversion to disappointing’, ‘sense of commitment’, ‘norm abidance’ as psychological factors that motivate prosocial choices. These preferences have been studied in controlled, experimental settings where choices are supposedly disconnected from the cultural environments in which they normally take place. However, understanding prosocial behavior as it occurs in social context involves specifying how social institutions and cultural environments influence the formation of the underlying preferences and trigger or inhibit prosocial choices.


Guiding research questions:

  • How do moral beliefs influence prosocial behavior in specific cultural contexts? To what extent are moral beliefs culturally shaped and to what extent are they constrained by psychological factors?
  • Trust strongly depends on the social institutions in which interactions occur. When and why do people believe that others will act in a fair way towards them? How does cultural context modulate trust?

Cooperation involves both prosocial behavior and trust. How do they combine? Why does the level of cooperation vary across task domain and cultures?