Cultural Universals
Get Cultural Universals essential facts below. View Videos or join the Cultural Universals discussion. Add Cultural Universals to your topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
Cultural Universals

A cultural universal (also called an anthropological universal or human universal), as discussed by Emile Durkheim, George Murdock, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Donald Brown and others, is an element, pattern, trait, or institution that is common to all human cultures worldwide. Taken together, the whole body of cultural universals is known as the human condition. Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviors or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations.[1] Some anthropological and sociological theorists that take a cultural relativist perspective may deny the existence of cultural universals: the extent to which these universals are "cultural" in the narrow sense, or in fact biologically inherited behavior is an issue of "nature versus nurture".

Donald Brown's list in Human Universals

In his book Human Universals (1991), Donald Brown defines human universals as comprising "those features of culture, society, language, behavior, and psyche for which there are no known exception", providing a list of hundreds of items he suggests as universal. Among the cultural universals listed by Donald Brown[2] are:

Language and cognition

  • Language employed to manipulate others
  • Language employed to misinform or mislead
  • Language is translatable
  • Abstraction in speech and thought
  • Antonyms, synonyms
  • Logical notions of "and", "not", "opposite", "equivalent", "part/whole", "general/particular"
  • Binary cognitive distinctions
  • Color terms: black, white
  • Classification of: age, behavioral propensities, body parts, colors, fauna, flora, inner states, kin, sex, space, tools, weather conditions
  • Continua (ordering as cognitive pattern)
  • Discrepancies between speech, thought, and action
  • Figurative speech, metaphors
  • Symbolism, symbolic speech
  • Synesthetic metaphors
  • Tabooed utterances
  • Special speech for special occasions
  • Prestige from proficient use of language (e.g. poetry)
  • Planning
  • Units of time




Non-nativist explanations

The observation of the same or similar behavior in different cultures does not prove that they are the results of a common underlying psychological mechanism. One possibility is that they may have been invented independently due to a common practical problem.[5]

Since any cultures that have been studied by anthropologists have had contact with at least the anthropologists that studied it, and anthropological research ethics slows the studies down so that other groups unbound by such ethics, often at least locally represented by people of the same skin color as the supposedly isolated tribe but significantly culturally globalized, reach the tribe before the anthropologists do, no truly uncontacted culture has ever been scientifically studied.[6] This allows outside influence to be an explanation for cultural universals as well.[7] This does not preclude multiple independent inventions of civilization and is therefore not the same thing as hyperdiffusionism; it merely means that cultural universals are not proof of innateness.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Schacter, Daniel L, Daniel Wegner and Daniel Gilbert. 2007. Psychology. Worth Publishers. pp. 26-27
  2. ^ Brown, Donald (1991). Human Universals. Template University Press. ISBN 978-0070082090.
  3. ^ Anderson, C.; Kraus, M. W.; Galinsky, A. D.; Keltner, D. (2012). "The Local-Ladder Effect: Social Status and Subjective Well-Being". Psychological Science. 23 (7): 764-71. doi:10.1177/0956797611434537. PMID 22653798. S2CID 8406753.
  4. ^ "We all want high social status".
  5. ^ Language: The cultural tool DL Everett - 2012 - Vintage
  6. ^ Fam Med. 2008 Jan;40(1) Continuing professional development in sensitive cultures. Huntington MK1.
  7. ^ Equal Recognition: The Moral Foundations of Minority Rights, Alan Patten 2014
  8. ^ Cultures and Globalization: Cultural Expression, Creativity and Innovation, Helmut K Anheier, Yudhishthir Raj Isar 2010


  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



Music Scenes