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Human universals compiled by Donald E.

As published in The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, 2002, New
York: Viking Press
Brown, D.E. 1991. Human universals. New York: McGraw-Hill

also see Brown, D.E., 2000. Human universals and their implications. In N.
Roughley (Ed.) Being humans: Anthropological universality and particularity in
transdisplinary perspectives. New York: Walter de Gruyter.
abstraction in speech & thought magic
actions under self-control distinguished magic to increase life
from those not under control magic to sustain life
aesthetics magic to win love
affection expressed and felt making comparisons
age grades male and female and adult and child seen as
age statuses having different natures
age terms males dominate public/political realm
ambivalence males engage in more coalitional violence
anthropomorphization males more aggressive
anticipation males more prone to lethal violence
antonyms males more prone to theft
attachment males, on average, travel greater distances over
baby talk lifetime
belief in supernatural/religion manipulate social relations
beliefs, false marking at phonemic, syntactic, and lexical
beliefs about death
beliefs about disease
beliefs about fortune and misfortune
meal times
binary cognitive distinctions
mearning, most units of are non-universal
biological mother and social mother
normally the same person measuring
black (color term) medicine
body adornment melody
childbirth customs memory
childcare mental maps

childhood fears mentalese
childhood fear of loud noises metaphor
childhood fear of strangers metonym
choice making (choosing alternatives) mood- or consciousness-altering techniques
classification and/or substances
classification of age moral sentiments
classification of behavioral propensities moral sentiments, limited effective range of
classification of body parts morphemes
classification of colors mother normally has consort during child-
rearing years
classification of fauna
classification of flora
murder proscribed
classification of inner states
classification of kin
music, children's
classification of sex
music related in part to dance
classification of space
music related in part to religious activity
classification of tools
music seen as art (a creation)
classification of weather conditions
music, vocal
music, vocal, includes speech forms
collective identities
musical redundancy
musical reptition
conflict, consultation to deal with
musical variation
conflict, means of dealing with
conflict, mediation of
conjectural reasoning
nomenclature (perhaps the same as
containers classification)
continua (ordering as cognitive pattern) nonbodily decorative art
contrasting marked and nonmarked normal distinguished from abnormal states
sememes (meaningful elements in
language) nouns
cooking numerals (counting)
cooperation Oedipus complex
cooperative labor oligarchy (de facto)
copulation normally conducted in privacy one (numeral)
corporate (perpetual) statuses onomatopoeia
coyness display overestimating objectivity of thought
critical learning periods pain
crying past/present/future
cultural variability person, concept of
culture personal names

culture/nature distinction phonemes
customary greetings phonemes defined by set of minimally
daily routines constrasting features
dance phonemes, merging of
death rituals phonemes, range from 10 to 70 in number
decision making phonemic change, inevitability of
decision making, collective phonemic change, rules of
differential valuations phonemic system
directions, giving of planning
discrepancies between speech, thought, planning for future
and action play
dispersed groups play to perfect skills
distinguishing right and wrong poetry/rhetoric
diurnality poetic line, uniform length range
divination poetic lines characterized by repetition and
division of labor variation
division of labor by age poetic lines demarcated by pauses
division of labor by sex polysemy (one word has several meanings)
dominance/submission possessive, intimate
dreams possessive, loose
dream interpretation practice to improve skills
economic inequalities precedence, concept of (that's how the leopard
got its spots)
economic inequalities, consciousness of
preference for own children and close kin
emotions (nepotism)
empathy prestige inequalities
entification (treating patterns and pretend play
relations as things)
environment, adjustments to
private inner life
envy, symbolic means of coping with
pronouns, minimum two numbers
pronouns, minimum three persons
proper names
face (word for)
facial communication
proverbs, sayings
facial expression of anger
proverbs, sayings - in mutually contradictory
facial expression of contempt forms
facial expression of disgust psychological defense mechanisms
facial expression of fear

facial expression of happiness rape
facial expression of surprise rape proscribed
facial expressions, masking/modifying of reciprocal exchanges (0f labor, goods, or
fairness (equity), concept of services)
family (or household) reciprocity, negative (revenge, retaliation)
father and mother, separate kin terms for regocnition of individuals by face
fears redress of wrongs
fear of death resistance to abuse of poser, to dominance
fears, ability to overcome some rhythm
feasting right-handedness as population norm
females do more direct childcare risk-taking
figurative speech rites of passage
fire rituals
folklore role and personality seen in dynamic
interrlationship (i.e., departures from role can be
food preferences explained in terms of individual personality)
food sharing sanctions
future, attempts to predict sanctions fro crimes against the collectivity
generosity admired sanctions include removal from the social unit
gestures self-control
gift giving self distinguished from other
good and bad distinguished self as neither wholly passive nor wholly
gossip autonomous
government self as subject and object
grammar self-image, awareness of (concern for what
group living others think)
groups that are not based on family self-image, manipulation of
habituation self-image, wanted to be positive
hairstyles self is responsible
hand (word for) semantics
healing the sick (or attempting to) semantic category of affecting things and people
hope semantic category of dimension
hospitality semantic category of giving
husband older than wife on average semantic category of location
hygienic care semantic category of motion
identity, collective semantic category of other physical properties
imagery semantic components
incest between mother and son semantic components, generation
unthinkable or tabooed semantic components, sex

incest, prevention or avoidance sememes, commonly used ones are short,
in-group distinguished from out-group(s) infrequently used ones are longer
in-group biases in favor of senses unified
inheritance rules sex differences in spatial cognition and behavior
institutions (organized co-activities) sex (gender) terminology is fundamentally
sex statuses
sexual attraction
interest in bioforms (living things or
things that resemble them) sexual attractiveness
interpolation sexual jealousy
interpreting behavior sexual modesty
intertwining (e.g., weaving) sexual regulation
jokes sexual regulation includes incest prevention
judging others sexuality as focus of interest
kin, close distinguished from distant shame
kin groups shelter
kin terms translatable by basic relations sickness and death seen as related
of procreation snakes, wariness around
kinship statuses social structure
language socialization
language employed to manipulate others socialization expected from senior kin
language employed to misinform or socialization includes toilet training
mislead spear
language is translatable special speech for special occasions
language not a simple reflection of reality statuses and roles
language, prestige from proficient use of statuses, ascribed and achieved
law (rights and obligations) statuses distinguished from individuals
law (rules of membership) statuses on other than sex, age, or kinship bases
leaders stinginess, disapproval of
lever stop/nonstop contrasts (in speech sounds)
likes and dislikes succession
linguistic redundancy sucking wounds
logical notions sweets preferred
logical notion of "and" symbolism
logical notion of "equivalent" symbolic speech
logical notion of "general/particular" synesthetic metaphors
logical notion of "not" synonyms
logical notion of "opposite" taboos
logical notion of "part/whole" tabooed foods

logical notion of "same" tabooed utterances
thumb sucking
time, cyclicity of
tool dependency
tool making
tools for cutting
tools to make tools
tools patterned culturally
tools, permament
tools for pounding
toys, playthings
triangular awareness (assessinjg relationships
among the self and two other people)
true and false distinguished)
two (numeral)
tying material (i.e., something like string)
units of time
violence, some forms of proscribed
vocalic/nonvocalic contrasts in phonemes
vowel contrasts
weather control (attempts to)
while (color term)
world view