The Rice Theory of Culture

Talhelm, Thomas, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Oishi, Shigehiro, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

In this paper, I present evidence that rice agriculture makes cultures more interdependent. First, I review anthropological research showing that rice has much higher labor and irrigation requirements than other traditional staple crops such as wheat and millet, as well as evidence that humans solve these problems with reciprocity and coordination. Study 1 tests this with 1,162 Han Chinese participants in six sites from all over China. Participants who grew up in rice provinces had more holistic thought, lower individualism, and higher loyalty/nepotism toward close friends. Study 1 also finds that rice provinces have lower divorce rates and fewer patents for inventions, controlling for GDP per capita. Study 2 replicated the rice-wheat thought style differences and loyalty/nepotism differences in India, which also has a rice-wheat split. Study 3 tests the theory in a more fine-grained way by collecting a large sample in Anhui province, which sits on the rice-wheat border. Three of four tasks showed rice-wheat differences at the county level. Study 4 tests whether differences in analytic thinking extend to ability to solve logic problems or whether the differences in thought style are truly “styles” that come out only at times when problems do not have a clear right or wrong answer. The results showed that holistic thinkers did better on logic problems, suggesting holistic thought is not indicative of less logical ability.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
culture, rice, wheat, China, East Asia, subsistence theory, origin of cultural differences, agriculture, ecological psychology
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