An Experimental Analysis of Cultural Materialism: The Effects of Various Modes of Production on Resource Sharing

Todd A Ward, Raymond Eastman, Chris Ninness


The 1980s witnessed an increased interest among behavior analysts regarding a paradigm in cultural anthropology known as cultural materialism. This perspective suggests that all behavior ultimately rests on the relationship between the natural environment and the methods used to obtain resources needed to maintain survival and a high standard of living, known as the mode of production. While useful, scientists in this area have overlooked one valuable resource—the laboratory. We manipulated the amount of resources dyads could harvest within blocks of five trials and across six conditions. Behavior consisted of harvesting and allocating resources. Token retention and a survival analogue were made contingent on resource sharing. Five of the seven dyads shared resources and no sharing occurred when participants could harvest sufficient resources to survive independently. Opportunities to integrate this research with optimal foraging research are discussed along with potential applications to real-world social issues.


cultural materialism, mode of production, resources, cooperation, token economy, analogue

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Published by the University of Illinois at Chicago Library

And Behaviorists for Social Responsibility