Values and norms of prosocial behavior in modern Sweden

Date of Completion

January 2010


Anthropology, Cultural|Scandinavian Studies




My dissertation research explores the cultural meaning of prosociality in Sweden by focusing on prosocial cognition formulated as values and norms. Main questions to be examined in my dissertation are: the relationship between Swedish cultural values and norms; the impact of social support available on perceived cultural saliency of prosocial ideas; and the effects of values/norms on mental health in Sweden. The study tests the validity of the qualitative distinction between more variable individual-level values and more consensual collective-level values, assesses their differential effects on self-reported individual subjective well-being, and estimates the degree of norms/values inconsistency and its influence on mental health in the Swedish sample. Using both qualitative and quantitative methodology, cognitive data associated with prosocial ideas in Swedish society, including their structure, accessibility in recall and intergenerational transmission, as well as information on social support and psychological health status was collected during 2008–2009 in Skâne, Sweden. ^ The most significant findings of the study concern the following relationships. In regression analysis, strong consistent predictive effects of social support were found for prosocial values but not for norms. Collective level values scales were found to be best predicted by the degree of social support available and by demographic variables dealing with primary and secondary socialization. Remarkably, all collective level values scales, regardless of their content, formed a consistent pattern of significant positive correlations with one's desire “to be a good person”. Having social support reliably predicted perception of prosocial ideas as salient to the Swedish society. However, when prosocial ideas were formulated as norms, one's opting to abide by the normative prescriptions, regardless of their contents, in correlation analysis was correlated with measures of empathy and with one's beliefs in human goodness. With respect to mental health, correlations between some tendencies in Swedish cultural norms dimensions with negative psychological health (distrust, fear and insecurity) were found. Personal values were not linked systematically to any measurement. Social network sine was not found to be a predictor of prosocial tendencies. Qualitative and quantitative results converge that, despite high consensus levels, the collective level values display more clarity than norms in Sweden. ^