Parenting and Cultures of Risk: A Comparative Analysis of Infidelity, Aggression, and Witchcraft



Parenting behavior may respond flexibly to environmental risk to help prepare children for the environment they can expect to face as adults. In hazardous environments where child outcomes are unpredictable, unresponsive parenting could be adaptive. Child development associated with parenting practices, in turn, may influence cultural patterns related to insecurity and aggression (which we call the “risk-response model”). We test these propositions in a cross-cultural analysis. The Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (SCCS) includes indicators of parental responsiveness: father–infant sleeping proximity, father involvement, parental response to infant crying, and breastfeeding duration (age at weaning). Unresponsive parenting was associated with cultural models including greater acceptance of extramarital sex, aggression, theft, and witchcraft. Socialization practices in later childhood were not better predictors of the outcomes than was earlier parenting. We conclude that some cultural adaptations appear rooted in parenting practices that affect child development.