Cross-cultural studies, sometimes called holocultural studies or comparative studies, is a specialization in anthropology and sister sciences (sociology, psychology, economics, political science) that uses field data from many societies to examine the scope of human behavior and test hypotheses about human behavior and culture. Cross-cultural studies is the third form of cross-cultural comparisons. The first is comparison of case studies, the second is controlled comparison among variants of a common derivation, and the third is comparison within a sample of cases. Unlike comparative studies, which examines similar characteristics of a few societies, cross-cultural studies uses a sufficiently large sample so that statistical analysis can be made to show relationships or lack of relationships between the traits in question. These studies are surveys of ethnographic data.
Cross-cultural studies are applied widely in the social sciences, particularly in cultural anthropology and psychology.
The first cross-cultural studies were carried out by 19th-century anthropologists such as Edward Burnett Tylor and Lewis H. Morgan. One of Edward Tylor's first studies gave rise to the central statistical issue of cross-cultural studies: Galton's problem. In the recent decades historians and particularly historians of science started looking at the mechanism and networks by which knowledge, ideas, skills, instruments and books moved across cultures, generating new and fresh concepts concerning the order of things in nature. In Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean 1560–1660 Avner Ben-Zaken has argued that cross-cultural exchanges take place at a cultural hazy locus where the margins of one culture overlaps the other, creating a "mutually embraced zone" where exchanges take place on mundane ways. From such a stimulating zone, ideas, styles, instruments and practices move onward to the cultural centers, urging them to renew and update cultural notions.
Modern era of cross-cultural studies
The modern era of cross-cultural studies began with George Murdock (1949). Murdock set up a number of foundational data sets, including the Human Relations Area Files, and the Ethnographic Atlas. Together with Douglas R. White, he developed the widely used Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, currently maintained by the open access electronic journal World Cultures.