British academics have found seven ‘moral rules’ which are obeyed in more than 60 cultures around the world, suggesting they may be universal across human society.

Oxford researchers said their study is ‘the largest and most comprehensive cross-cultural survey of morals ever conducted’.

Dr Oliver Scott Curry, lead author and senior researcher at the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, said: ‘The debate between moral universalists and moral relativists has raged for centuries, but now we have some answers.

‘People everywhere face a similar set of social problems, and use a similar set of moral rules to solve them.

‘As predicted, these seven moral rules appear to be universal across cultures. Everyone everywhere shares a common moral code. All agree that cooperating, promoting the common good, is the right thing to do.’



The seven rules for life

  • Help your family.
  • Help your group,
  • Return favours.
  • Be brave.
  • Defer to superiors.
  • Divide resources fairly.
  • Respect others’ property.
It turns out societies across the world have a lot in common (Picture: University of Oxford)

The study shows how humans value unity, solidarity and loyalty among groups, the academics said.

They found that among the Amhara of Ethiopia, ‘flouting kinship obligation is regarded as a shameful deviation, indicating an evil character’.

In Korea, there is an ‘egalitarian community ethic [of] mutual assistance and cooperation among neighbours and strong in-group solidarity’.

Whilst in Maasai societies, ‘those who cling to warrior virtues are still highly respected’, and ‘the uncompromising ideal of supreme warriorhood [involves] ascetic commitment to self-sacrifice…in the heat of battle, as a supreme display of courageous loyalty’.

Professor Harvey Whitehouse said: ‘Our study was based on historical descriptions of cultures from around the world; this data was collected prior to, and independently of, the development of the theories that we were testing.

‘Future work will be able to test more fine-grained predictions of the theory by gathering new data, even more systematically, out in the field.’

‘We hope that this research helps to promote mutual understanding between people of different cultures; an appreciation of what we have in common, and how and why we differ,’ added Curry.





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