Changing cultural attitudes towards female genital cutting

Vogt, Sonja; Mohmmed Zaid, Nadia Ahmed; El Fadil Ahmed, Hilal; Fehr, Ernst; Efferson, Charles (2016). Changing cultural attitudes towards female genital cutting. Nature, 538(7626), pp. 506-509. Springer Nature 10.1038/nature20100

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As globalization brings people with incompatible attitudes into contact, cultural conflicts inevitably arise. Little is known about how to mitigate conflict and about how the conflicts that occur can shape the cultural evolution of the groups involved. Female genital cutting is a prominent example. Governments and international agencies have promoted the abandonment of cutting for decades, but the practice remains widespread with associated health risks for millions of girls and women. In their efforts to end cutting, international agents have often adopted the view that cutting is locally pervasive and entrenched1. This implies the need to introduce values and expectations from outside the local culture. Members of the target society may view such interventions as unwelcome intrusions, and campaigns promoting abandonment have sometimes led to backlash as they struggle to reconcile cultural tolerance with the conviction that cutting violates universal human rights. Cutting, however, is not necessarily locally pervasive and entrenched. We designed experiments on cultural change that exploited the existence of conflicting attitudes within cutting societies. We produced four entertaining movies that served as experimental treatments in two experiments in Sudan, and we developed an implicit association test to unobtrusively measure attitudes about cutting. The movies depart from the view that cutting is locally pervasive by dramatizing members of an extended family as they confront each other with divergent views about whether the family should continue cutting. The movies significantly improved attitudes towards girls who remain uncut, with one in particular having a relatively persistent effect. These results show that using entertainment to dramatize locally discordant views can provide a basis for applied cultural evolution without accentuating intercultural divisions.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


03 Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Institute of Sociology

UniBE Contributor:

Vogt, Sonja Brigitte


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Springer Nature




Simona Richard

Date Deposited:

06 Aug 2019 14:01

Last Modified:

22 Oct 2019 20:26

Publisher DOI:





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