Western individualism arose from Church's incest taboo (why you're WEIRD)

The Catholic Church Made You 'Weird' -- That's Not a Bad Thing: People in the West are psychologically unlike the rest of the world. Global studies find that Western Europeans and their descendents tend to be more individualistic, less conformist, and more trusting of strangers. But why? New research posits that the medieval Catholic Church, and its emphasis on monogamous marriage and the small family unit as the foundation of society, is responsible.

According to a study published in the journal Science, countries and regions with a longer exposure to the Western Catholic Church are more likely to show the individualist, nonconformist psychology common to Western nations. The church may have inadvertently molded this psychology with medieval-era policies that ended cousin marriages and other tribe-like bonds, and created nuclear, monogamous households. (MORE)

Western individualism arose from Church's incest taboo: In what may come as a surprise to freethinkers and nonconformists happily defying social conventions these days ... a new study traces the origins of contemporary individualism to the powerful influence of the Catholic Church in Europe more than 1,000 years ago, during the Middle Ages.

[...] In the course of their research, Joe Henrich and his colleagues created a database and calculated “the duration of exposure” to the Western church for every country in the world, as well as 440 “subnational European regions.” They then tested their predictions about the influence of the church at three levels: globally, at the national scale; regionally, within European countries; and among the adult children of immigrants in Europe from countries with varying degrees of exposure to the church.

Henrich notes that the church’s focus on marriage proscriptions rose to the level of obsession. “They came to the view that marrying and having sex with these relatives, even if they were cousins, was something like sibling incest in that it made God angry,” he says. “And things like plagues were explained as a consequence of God’s dissent.”

The taboo against cousin marriage might have helped the church grow, adds Jonathan Schulz, an assistant professor of economics at George Mason University and first author of the paper. “For example,” he says, “it is easier to convert people once you get rid of ancestral gods. And the way to get rid of ancestral gods is to get rid of their foundation: family organization along lineages and the tracing of ancestral descent.”

The Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies of Western Europe and what the authors call “their cultural descendants in North America and Australia” have long been recognized as outliers among the world’s populations for their independence of thought and other traits, such as a willingness to trust strangers.

The new paper is the first to systematically link that psychological variation to the Western church. “This study is truly novel and uniquely interdisciplinary,” says Thomas Talhelm, an associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who was not involved with the work. “If we were to survey researchers in anthropology, cultural psychology, and evolution and ask them what explains Western WEIRD-ness, we would get all sorts of answers. And few would focus specifically on the church or the nuclear family.” (MORE - details)
I like to think the tendency to outbreed, as an attraction to genetic traits different from oneself, was selectively favored in that it produced healthier and more robust offspring unafflicted with the mutations of inbreeding. I feel like diversity of genetic traits was better for survival in the long run because it allowed for new adaptations to changing situations.
Makes some sense, especially considering all the loss of taboos around marriage have literally led to people wanting to marry family members.

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