Cosmopolitan morality trades off in-group for the world, separating benefits and protection

Xuechunzi Bai, Varun Gauri, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Global cooperation rests on popular endorsement of cosmopolitan values—putting all humanity equal to or ahead of conationals. Despite being comparative judgments that may trade off, even sacrifice, the in-group’s interests for the rest of the world, moral cosmopolitanism finds support in large, nationally representative surveys from Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Japan, the United States, Colombia, and Guatemala. A series of studies probe this trading off of the in-group’s interests against the world’s interests. Respondents everywhere distinguish preventing harm to foreign citizens, which almost all support, from redistributing resources, which only about half support. These two dimensions of moral cosmopolitanism, equitable security (preventing harm) and equitable benefits (redistributing resources), predict attitudes toward contested international policies, actual charitable donations, and preferences for mask and vaccine allocations in the COVID-19 response. The dimensions do not reflect several demographic variables and only weakly reflect political ideology. Moral cosmopolitanism also differs from related psychological constructs such as group identity. Finally, to understand the underlying thought structures, natural language processing reveals cognitive associations underlying moral cosmopolitanism (e.g., world, both) versus the alternative, parochial moral mindset (e.g., USA, first). Making these global or local terms accessible introduces an effective intervention that at least temporarily leads more people to behave like moral cosmopolitans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2100991118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
StatePublished - Oct 5 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Cognitive processes
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Intergroup morality
  • Public policy


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