Collectivist versus individualistic values are important attributes of intercultural variation. Collectivist values favour in-group members over out-group members and may have evolved to protect in-group members against pathogen transmission. As predicted by the pathogen stress theory of cultural values, more collectivist countries are associated with a higher historical pathogen burden. However, if lifestyles of collectivist countries indeed function as a social defence which decreases pathogen transmission, then these countries should also have experienced fewer disease outbreaks in recent times. We tested this novel hypothesis by correlating the values of collectivism-individualism for 66 countries against their historical pathogen burden, recent number of infectious disease outbreaks and zoonotic disease outbreaks and emerging infectious disease events, and four potentially confounding variables. We confirmed the previously established negative relationship between individualism and historical pathogen burden with new data. While we did not find a correlation for emerging infectious disease events, we found significant positive correlations between individualism and the number of infectious disease outbreaks and zoonotic disease outbreaks. Therefore, one possible cost for individualistic cultures may be their higher susceptibility to disease outbreaks. We support further studies into the exact protective behaviours and mechanisms of collectivist societies which may inhibit disease outbreaks.
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