Cold, heat, wealth, and culture

Evert Van de Vliert, Dejun Tony Kong

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

    32 Downloads (Pure)


    This chapter entertains the question of how, or rather, why fundamental freedoms are unevenly distributed around the globe. We propose an explanation in terms of climatic cold and heat ranging from undemanding to demanding, and economic wealth ranging from poor to rich. Fundamental freedoms appear to increase in a stepwise manner in populations faced with threatening (demanding, poor) to unthreatening (undemanding, poor) to unchallenging (undemanding, rich) to challenging (demanding, rich) places of residence. This ecological regularity applies to freedom from ingroup-outgroup discrimination, freedom from hierarchical discrimination, freedom from corruption, freedom from aggression, freedom to trust, and freedom to be creative. As an additional discovery, we find increases in cultural expressions of freedom away from the threatening places of residence around the equator toward the challenging places of residence at higher latitudes in both hemispheres. The observed ecological and latitudinal trends are generalizable across cultural freedoms, across space, and across time.   Many civilizations have worshipped the Sun or the Earth—and for good reasons. If the Sun would shine from farther away or closer up, humankind would freeze to death in the cold or burn to death in the heat. If the Earth would not spin around the Sun and around its own tilted axis, its inhabitants would freeze to death in the one hemisphere with eternal winter or burn to death in the opposite hemisphere with eternal summer. Indeed, the Sun’s radiation and the Earth’s rotation support life. Conversely, all living species on our planet must carefully navigate between climatic cold and heat. These adaptations are particularly relevant to humans, who feed on plants and animals. As a notable consequence, few of our ancestors have migrated to arctic or desert regions, where livability is highly problematic. Elsewhere, our ancestors have created lots of practices and artefacts, including money, to meet basic needs during cold winters or hot summers. So pervasive are these adaptations that we have come to disconnect them from ambient temperatures. This chapter concentrates on population-level connections between thermal climate and societal culture—the shared system of needs and stresses, and embedded behavioral goals, means, and outcomes at the place of residence (Van de Vliert, 2013a). We first describe Hofstede’s (1980) early discovery of some mysterious connections between a country’s distance from the equator and the national culture of its inhabitants. Hofstede speculated that the latitudinal gradient of average temperatures might be ultimately accountable for the latitudinal gradients of cultural individualism and power differences (see also Chapter 3 by Peter Smith for a review of Hofstede’s work). Inspired by recent work (Van Lange, Rinderu, & Bushman, 2017a), we refine that early climate-culture speculation by addressing the broader puzzle of latitudinality. The remaining sections then review and generalize latitude-related evidence of climato-economic pressures on cultural individualism and political democracy as components of freedom, and on four other cultural characteristics with sufficient sample sizes in both latitudinal hemispheres: corruption and aggression as antisocial characteristics; trust and creativity as prosocial characteristics.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Handbook of Culture and Psychology
    EditorsDavid Matsumoto, Hyisung C. Hwang
    Place of PublicationNew York
    PublisherOxford University Press
    Number of pages30
    ISBN (Print)9780190679743
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


    • cold; heat; wealth; culture

    Cite this