Joseph Henrich's research while affiliated with Harvard University and other places

Publications (235)

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How do beliefs about gods vary across populations, and what accounts for this variation? We argue that appeals to gods generally reflect prominent features of local social ecologies. We first draw from a synthesis of theoretical, experimental, and ethnographic evidence to delineate a set of predictive criteria for the kinds of contexts with which r...
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Less intuitive, hard-to-learn cognitive heuristics can thrive.
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Dominance captures behavioural patterns found in social hierarchies that arise from agonistic interactions in which some individuals coercively exploit their control over costs and benefits to extract deference from others, often through aggression, threats and/or intimidation. Accumulating evidence points to its importance in humans and its separa...
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After introducing the new field of cultural evolution, we review a growing body of empirical evidence suggesting that culture shapes what people attend to, perceive and remember as well as how they think, feel and reason. Focusing on perception, spatial navigation, mentalizing, thinking styles, reasoning (epistemic norms) and language, we discuss n...
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Background Human enterovirus 68 (EV68) is a primary etiological agent for respiratory illnesses, while no effective drug has yet used in clinics largely because the pathogenesis of EV68 is not clear. DNA damage response (DDR) responds to cellular DNA breaks and is also involved in viral replication. Three DDR pathways includes ataxia telangiectasia...
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Full-text available
After introducing the new field of cultural evolution, we review a growing body of empirical evidence suggesting that culture shapes what people attend to, perceive and remember as well as how they think, feel and reason. Focusing on perception, spatial navigation, mentalizing, thinking styles, reasoning (epistemic norms) and language, we discuss n...
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Full-text available
Although a substantial literature in anthropology and comparative religion explores divination across diverse societies and back into history, little research has integrated the older ethnographic and historical work with recent insights on human learning, cultural transmission, and cognitive science. Here we present evidence showing that divinatio...
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Ritual protocols aimed at rainmaking have been a recurrent sociocultural phenomenon across societies and throughout history. Given the fact that such protocols were likely entirely ineffective, why did they repeatedly emerge and persist, sometimes over millennia even in populations with writing and record keeping? To address this puzzle, many schol...
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The Ethnographic Atlas (Murdock, 1967), an anthropological database, is widely used across the social sciences. The Atlas is a quantified and discretely categorized collection of information gleaned from ethnographies covering more than 1200 pre-industrial societies. While being popular in many fields, it has been subject to skepticism within cultu...
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Durkee et al. (2020) conducted a cross-cultural investigation of people’s beliefs about how traits, behaviors, and practices that enhance an individual’s perceived ability to generate benefits (prestige) or inflict costs (dominance) promote perceived social status in humans. In this document, we (a) identify multicollinearity in the authors’ statis...
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A new study investigates hunters' causal understandings of bow design and mechanics among the Hadza, one of the last remaining foraging populations. The results suggest that sophisticated technology can evolve without complete causal understanding.
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Durkee et al. (2020) conducted a cross-cultural investigation of people’s beliefs about how traits, behaviors, and practices that enhance an individual’s perceived ability to generate benefits (prestige) or inflict costs (dominance) promote perceived social status in humans. In this online extended version of our letter, we identify multicollineari...
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Cognitive and evolutionary research has overwhelmingly focused on the powerful deities of large-scale societies, yet little work has examined the smaller gods of animist traditions. Here, in a study of the Mentawai water spirit Sikameinan (Siberut Island, Indonesia), we address three questions: (1) Are smaller gods believed to enforce cooperation,...
Preprint
Durkee et al. (2020) conducted a cross-cultural investigation of people’s beliefs about how traits, behaviors, and practices that enhance an individual’s perceived ability to generate benefits (prestige) or inflict costs (dominance) promote perceived social status in humans. In this online extended version of our letter, we (a) identify multicollin...
Preprint
Durkee et al. (2020) conducted a cross-cultural investigation of people’s beliefs about how traits, behaviors, and practices that enhance an individual’s perceived ability to generate benefits (prestige) or inflict costs (dominance) promote perceived social status in humans. In this letter (also see online extended version), we (a) identify multico...
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Most existing research on beliefs about supernatural agents assumes a Western model of mind that posits a) one can infer others’ thoughts, and b) mental state inference is the best explanation for actions. Other cultures view minds differently. We recruit Indigenous iTaukei Fijian communities who hold 1) a local model of mind that discourages menta...
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Humans are an ultrasocial species. This sociality, however, cannot be fully explained by the canonical approaches found in evolutionary biology, psychology, or economics. Understanding our unique social psychology requires accounting not only for the breadth and intensity of human cooperation but also for the variation found across societies, over...
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Psychology has traditionally seen itself as the science of universal human cognition, but it has only recently begun seriously grappling with cross-cultural variation. Here we argue that the roots of cross-cultural variation often lie in the past. Therefore, to understand not only how but also why psychology varies, we need to grapple with cross-te...
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There are compelling reasons to expect that representing any active, powerful god or spirit may contribute to cooperation. One possible mechanism underlying this effect is a system that infers that spiritual agents are morally concerned. If individuals cognitive represent deities as agents, and if agents are generally conceptualized as having moral...
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Decades of research conducted in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, & Democratic (WEIRD) societies have led many scholars to conclude that the use of mental states in moral judgment is a human cognitive universal, perhaps an adaptive strategy for selecting optimal social partners from a large pool of candidates. However, recent work from a mo...
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Why do religious leaders observe costly prohibitions? Examining taboos on Mentawai shamans - Manvir Singh, Joseph Henrich
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In this article, we present a tool and a method for measuring the psychological and cultural distance between societies and creating a distance scale with any population as the point of comparison. Because psychological data are dominated by samples drawn from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) nations, and overwhelming...
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Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of many Western populations. We propose that part of this variation can be traced back to the action and diffusion of the Western Church, the branch of Christianity that evolved into the Roman Catholic Church....
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Does integration into commercial markets lead people to work longer hours? Does this mean that people in more subsistence-oriented societies work less compared to those in more market-integrated societies? Despite their venerable status in both anthropology and economic history, these questions have been difficult to address due to a dearth of appr...
Preprint
Full-text available
Cognitive and evolutionary research has overwhelmingly focused on the powerful deities of large-scale societies, yet little work has examined the smaller gods of animist traditions. Here, in a study of the Mentawai water spirit Sikameinan (Siberut Island, Indonesia), we address three questions: (1) Are smaller gods believed to enforce cooperation,...
Preprint
Full-text available
Religious leaders refrain from sex and food across human societies. Researchers argue that this self-denial promotes perceptions of credibility, invoking such associations in explanations of shamanism and prosocial religion, but few, if any, quantitative data exist testing these claims. Here we show that shamans in a small-scale society observe cos...
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Cooperation plays a crucial role in primate social life. However, the evolution of large-scale human cooperation from the cognitive fundamentals found in other primates remains an evolutionary puzzle. Most theoretical work focuses on positive reciprocity (helping) or coordinated punishment by assuming well-defined social roles or institutions (e.g....
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Whitehouse, et al.’s creation of the Seshat open archaeo-historical databank is laudable. However, the authors’ analysis methods, treatment of missing data, and source quality undermine the paper’s key conclusion that moralizing deities appear only after rapid increases in social complexity. First, their report fails to address the inherent ‘forwar...
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Converging evidence suggests that high rank is communicated through various nonverbal behaviors (e.g., expansiveness), but prior studies have not examined whether 2 distinct forms of high rank-known as prestige and dominance-are communicated through distinct nonverbal displays. Given the divergent messages that prestigious and dominant leaders need...
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The emergence of large-scale cooperation during the Holocene remains a central problem in the evolutionary literature. One hypothesis points to culturally evolved beliefs in punishing, interventionist gods that facilitate the extension of cooperative behaviour toward geographically distant co-religionists. Furthermore, another hypothesis points to...
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Full-text available
The emergence of large-scale cooperation during the Holocene remains a central problem in the evolutionary literature. One hypothesis points to culturally evolved beliefs in punishing, interventionist gods that facilitate the extension of cooperative behaviour toward geographically distant co-religionists. Furthermore, another hypothesis points to...
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The replication crisis facing the psychological sciences is widely regarded as rooted in methodological or statistical shortcomings. We argue that a large part of the problem is the lack of a cumulative theoretical framework or frameworks. Without an overarching theoretical framework that generates hypotheses across diverse domains, empirical progr...
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Does the experience of war increase people’s religiosity? Much evidence supports the idea that particular religious beliefs and ritual forms can galvanize social solidarity and motivate in-group cooperation, thus facilitating a wide range of cooperative behaviours including—but not limited to—peaceful resistance and collective aggression. However,...
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The replication crisis facing the psychological sciences is widely regarded as rooted in methodological or statistical shortcomings. We argue that a large part of the problem is the lack of a cumulative theoretical framework or frameworks. Without an overarching theoretical framework that generates hypotheses across diverse domains, empirical progr...
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Full-text available
Few phenomena have had as profound or long-lasting consequences in human history as the emergence of large-scale centralized states in the place of smaller scale and more local societies. This study examines a fundamental, and yet unexplored, consequence of state formation: its genetic legacy. We studied the genetic impact of state centralization d...
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In the last few million years, the hominin brain more than tripled in size. Comparisons across evolutionary lineages suggest that this expansion may be part of a broader trend toward larger, more complex brains in many taxa. Efforts to understand the evolutionary forces driving brain expansion have focused on climatic, ecological, and social factor...
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With the rapid development of artificial intelligence have come concerns about how machines will make moral decisions, and the major challenge of quantifying societal expectations about the ethical principles that should guide machine behaviour. To address this challenge, we deployed the Moral Machine, an online experimental platform designed to ex...
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In tracing the roots of human cooperation, researchers have gleaned insights from the sociality of contemporary hunter-gatherers. A new study among the Hadza, one of the few surviving foraging populations, challenges popular approaches to cooperation while suggesting a central role for cultural transmission.
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Mental state reasoning has been theorized as a core feature of how we navigate our social worlds, and as especially vital to moral reasoning. Judgments of moral wrong-doing and punish-worthiness often hinge upon evaluations of the perpetrator's mental states. In two studies, we examine how differences in cultural conceptions about how one should th...
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Correlation between overconfidence and self-enhancement measures for Euro Canadians. (PDF)
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Full-text available
Overconfidence is sometimes assumed to be a human universal, but there remains a dearth of data systematically measuring overconfidence across populations and contexts. Moreover, cross-cultural experiments often fail to distinguish between placement and precision and worse still, often compare population-mean placement estimates rather than individ...
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Side by side comparisons of True Overconfidence for empathy and math with and without incentives. Error bars are 95% confidence intervals. Note that the y-axis range is different so as to better visualize the differences between lines. (TIF)
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Supplementary files including analytic script, copy of consent form, experimental protocol and additional analyses. Contains Analytic Script for Overconfidence.html; Analytic Script for Overconfidence.ipynb; Overconfidence ConsentForm.pdf; Overconfidence_Supplementary.pdf. (ZIP)
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Correlation between overconfidence and self-enhancement measures for Japanese. (PDF)
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Correlation between overconfidence and self-enhancement measures for East Asian Canadians. (PDF)
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Multilevel regression models with interactions. Multilevel regression models on the binary variables for task type (Math), updating (After) and incentives (Incentive), with population, age, and sex. This table includes interactions. We control for common variance from repeated measures using random intercepts for participants. (PDF)
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Correlation between overconfidence and self-enhancement measures for Hong Kong Chinese. (PDF)
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Multilevel regression models without interactions. Multilevel regression models on the binary variables for task type (Math), updating (After) and incentives (Incentive), with population, age, and sex. We control for common variance from repeated measures using random intercepts for participants. (PDF)
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Actual raw performance (i.e. not relative to rest of population) for each population. For the Empathy under (a) no incentives and (b) incentives and the Math test under (c) no incentives and (d) incentives. Error bars are 95% confidence intervals. (TIF)
Preprint
Full-text available
Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of populations that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD). We propose that much of this variation arose as people psychologically adapted to differing kin-based institutions—the set...
Article
Full-text available
Does moral culture contribute to the evolution of cooperation? Here, we examine individuals' and communities' models of what it means to be good and bad and how they correspond to corollary behavior across a variety of socioecological contexts. Our sample includes over 600 people from eight different field sites that include foragers, horticultural...
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Full-text available
Researchers have recently proposed that "moralistic" religions-those with moral doctrines, moralistic supernatural punishment, and lower emphasis on ritual-emerged as an effect of greater wealth and material security. One interpretation appeals to life history theory, predicting that individuals with "slow life history" strategies will be more attr...
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Descriptive demographic statistics, methods, statistical models, main and supplementary analyses. (PDF)
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Researchers explain cultural phenomena ranging from cognitive biases to widespread religious beliefs by assuming intuitive dualism: humans imagine minds and bodies as distinct and separable. We examine dualist intuition development across two societies that differ in normative focus on thinking about minds. We use a new method that measures people’...
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Mental state reasoning has been theorized as a core feature of how we navigate our social worlds, and as especially vital to moral reasoning. Judgments of moral wrong-doing and punish- worthiness often hinge upon evaluations of the perpetrator’s mental states. In two studies, we examine how differences in cultural conceptions about how one should t...