Donald E. Brown’s List of Human Universals

Excerpt From Steven Pinker: “The Blank Slate”

This list, compiled in 1989 and published in 1991, consists primarily of “surface” universals of behavior and overt language noted by ethnographers. It does not list deeper universals of mental structure that are revealed by theory and experiments. It also omits near-universals (traits that most, but not all, cultures show) and conditional universals (“If a culture has trait A, it always has trait B”). A list of items added since 1989 is provided at the end. For discussion and references, see Brown’s Human Universals (1991) and his entry for “Human Universals” in The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (Wilson & Keil, 1999).

abstraction in speech and thought actions under self-control distinguished from those not under control aesthetics affection expressed and felt age grades age statuses age terms ambivalence anthropomorphization antonyms baby talk belief in supernatural/ religion beliefs, false beliefs about death beliefs about disease beliefs about fortune and misfortune binary cognitive distinctions biological mother and social mother normally the same person black (color term) body adornment childbirth customs childcare childhood fears childhood fear of loud noises childhood fear of strangers choice making (choosing alternatives) classification classification of age classification of behavioral propensities classification of body parts classification of colors classification of fauna classification of flora classification of inner states classification of kin classification of sex classification of space classification of tools classification of weather conditions coalitions collective identities conflict conflict, consultation to deal with conflict, means of dealing with conflict, mediation of conjectural reasoning containers continua (ordering as cognitive pattern) contrasting marked and nonmarked sememes(meaningful elements in language) cooking cooperation cooperative labor copulation normally conducted in privacy corporate (perpetual) statuses coyness display crying cultural variability culture culture/nature distinction customary greetings daily routines dance death rituals decision making decision making, collective directions, giving of discrepancies between speech, thought, and action dispersed groups distinguishing right and wrong diurnality divination division of labor division of labor by age division of labor by sex dreams dream interpretation economic inequalities economic inequalities, consciousness of emotions empathy entification (treating patterns and relations as things) environment, adjustments to envy envy, symbolic means of coping with ethnocentrism etiquette explanation face (word for) facial communication facial expression of anger facial expression of contempt facial expression of disgust facial expression of fear facial expression of happiness facial expression of sadness facial expression of surprise facial expressions, masking/modifying of family (or household) father and mother, separate kin terms for fears fears, ability to overcome some feasting females do more direct childcare figurative speech fire folklore food preferences food sharing future, attempts to predict generosity admired gestures gift giving good and bad distinguished gossip government grammar group living groups that are not based on family hairstyles hand (word for) healing the sick (or attempting to) hospitality hygienic care identity, collective incest between mother and son unthinkable or tabooed incest, prevention or avoidance in-group distinguished from out-group(s) in-group, biases in favor of inheritance rules insulting intention interest in bioforms (living things or things that resemble them) interpreting behavior intertwining (e.g., weaving) jokes kin, close distinguished from distant kin groups kin terms translatable by basic relations of procreation kinship statuses language language employed to manipulate others language employed to misinform or mislead language is translatable language not a simple reflection of reality language, prestige from proficient use of law (rights and obligations) law (rules of membership) leaders lever linguistic redundancy logical notions logical notion of “and” logical notion of “equivalent” logical notion of “general/particular” logical notion of “not” logical notion of “opposite” logical notion of “part/whole” logical notion of “same” magic magic to increase life magic to sustain life magic to win love male and female and adult and child seen as having different natures males dominate public/ political realm males more aggressive males more prone to lethal violence males more prone to theft manipulate social relations marking at phonemic, syntactic, and lexical levels marriage materialism meal times meaning, most units of are non-universal measuring medicine melody memory metaphor metonym mood-or consciousness-altering techniques and/or substances morphemes mother normally has consort during childrearing years mourning murder proscribed music music, children’s music related in part to dance music related in part to religious activity music seen as art (a creation) music, vocal music, vocal, includes speech forms musical redundancy musical repetition musical variation myths narrative nomenclature (perhaps the same as classification) nonbodily decorative art normal distinguished from abnormal states nouns numerals (counting) Oedipus complex oligarchy (de facto) one (numeral) onomatopoeia overestimating objectivity of thought pain past/present/future person, concept of personal names phonemes phonemes defined by sets of minimally contrasting features phonemes, merging of phonemes, range from 10 to 70 in number phonemic change, inevitability of phonemic change, rules of phonemic system planning planning for future play play to perfect skills poetry/rhetoric poetic line, uniform length range poetic lines characterized by repetition and variation poetic lines demarcated by pauses polysemy (one word has several related meanings) possessive, intimate possessive, loose practice to improve skills preference for own children and close kin (nepotism) prestige inequalities private inner life promise pronouns pronouns, minimum two numbers pronouns, minimum three persons proper names property psychological defense mechanisms rape rape proscribed reciprocal exchanges (of labor, goods, or services) reciprocity, negative (revenge, retaliation) reciprocity, positive recognition of individuals by face redress of wrongs rhythm right-handedness as population norm rites of passage rituals role and personality seen in dynamic interrelationship (i.e., departures from role can be explained in terms of individual personality) sanctions sanctions for crimes against the collectivity sanctions include removal from the social unit self distinguished from other self as neither wholly passive nor wholly autonomous self as subject and object self is responsible semantics semantic category of affecting things and people semantic category of dimension semantic category of giving semantic category of location semantic category of motion semantic category of speed semantic category of other physical properties semantic components semantic components, generation semantic components, sex sememes, commonly used ones are short, infrequently used ones are longer senses unified sex (gender) terminology is fundamentally binary sex statuses sexual attraction sexual attractiveness sexual jealousy sexual modesty sexual regulation sexual regulation includes incest prevention sexuality as focus of interest shelter sickness and death seen as related snakes, wariness around social structure socialization socialization expected from senior kin socialization includes toilet training spear special speech for special occasions statuses and roles statuses, ascribed and achieved statuses distinguished from individuals statuses on other than sex, age, or kinship bases stop/nonstop contrasts(in speech sounds) succession sweets preferred symbolism symbolic speech synonyms taboos tabooed foods tabooed utterances taxonomy territoriality time time, cyclicity of tools tool dependency tool making tools for cutting tools to make tools tools patterned culturally tools, permanent tools for pounding trade triangular awareness(assessing relationships among the self and two other people) true and false distinguished turn-taking two (numeral) tying material (i.e., something like string) units of time verbs violence, some forms of proscribed visiting vocalic/nonvocalic contrasts in phonemes vowel contrasts anticipation attachment critical learning periods differential valuations dominance/submission fairness (equity), concept of fear of death habituation hope husband older than wife on average imagery institutions (organized co-activities) intention interpolation judging others likes and dislikes making comparisons weaning weapons weather control (at-tempts to) males, on average, travel greater distances over lifetime males engage in more coalitional violence mental maps mentalese moral sentiments moral sentiments, limited effective range of precedence, concept of (that’s how the leopard got its spots) pretend play pride proverbs, sayings proverbs, sayings—in mutually contradictory forms white (color term) world view resistance to abuse of power, to dominance risk taking self-control self-image, awareness of (concern for what others think) self-image, manipulation of self-image, wanted to be positive sex differences in spatial cognition and behavior shame stinginess, disapproval of sucking wounds synesthetic metaphors thumb sucking tickling toys, playthings