Human Universals - A List of Human Stuff


December 15th

Donald E Brown, an American anthropologist and scholar, took the time a few decades ago to compile a list of things that all human races appear to have in common. I remember finding this list online a few years ago and pouring over it.

One of the topics that has always interested me is the question of what it means to be human. This list doesn’t answer that question and these things are not uniquely human, but we do appear to share them across disparate cultures. The modern office worker and the Eastern Eurpean cave man’s commonality is documented here, and it’s wonderful.

This list is actually from http://condor.depaul.edu/mfiddler/hyphen/humunivers.htm and we can assume the copyright remains with Mr Brown, for which you should consider his book - Human Universals.

Human Universals… compiled by Donald E. Brown

..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

actions under self-control distinguished
from those not under control

aesthetics

affection expressed and felt

age grades

age statuses

age terms

ambivalence

anthropomorphization

anticipation

antonyms

attachment

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

critical learning periods

crying

cultural variability

culture

culture/nature distinction

customary greetings

daily routines

dance

death rituals

decision making

decision making, collective

differential valuations

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

dominance/submission

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 surprise

facial expressions, masking/modifying
of

fairness (equity), concept of

family (or household)

father and mother, separate kin terms
for

fears

fear of death

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

habituation

hairstyles

hand (word for)

healing the sick (or attempting to)

hope

hospitality

husband older than wife on average

hygienic care

identity, collective

imagery

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

institutions (organized co-activities)

insulting

intention

interest in bioforms (living things or
things that resemble them)

interpolation

interpreting behavior

intertwining (e.g., weaving)

jokes

judging others

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

likes and dislikes

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

making comparisons

male and female and adult
and child seen as having different natures

males dominate public/political
realm

males engage in more coalitional
violence

males more aggressive

males more prone to lethal
violence

males more prone to theft

males, on average, travel
greater distances over lifetime

manipulate social relations

marking at phonemic, syntactic,
and lexical levels

marriage

materialism

meal times

mearning, most units of
are non-universal

measuring

medicine

melody

memory

mental maps

mentalese

metaphor

metonym

mood- or consciousness-altering
techniques and/or substances

moral sentiments

moral sentiments, limited
effective range of

morphemes

mother normally has consort
during child-rearing 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 reptition

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 set
of minimally constrasting 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 meanings)

possessive, intimate

possessive, loose

practice to improve skills

precedence, concept of
(that’s how the leopard got its spots)

preference for own children
and close kin (nepotism)

prestige inequalities

pretend play

pride

private inner life

promise

pronouns

pronouns, minimum two numbers

pronouns, minimum three
persons

proper names

property

proverbs, sayings

proverbs, sayings - in
mutually contradictory forms

psychological defense mechanisms

rape

rape proscribed

reciprocal exchanges (0f
labor, goods, or services)

reciprocity, negative (revenge,
retaliation)

regocnition of individuals
by face

redress of wrongs

resistance to abuse of
poser, to dominance

rhythm

right-handedness as population
norm

risk-taking

rites of passage

rituals

role and personality seen
in dynamic interrlationship (i.e., departures from role can be
explained in terms of individual personality)

sanctions

sanctions fro crimes against
the collectivity

sanctions include removal
from the social unit

self-control

self distinguished from
other

self as neither wholly
passive nor wholly autonomous

self as subject and object

self-image, awareness of
(concern for what others think)

self-image, manipulation
of

self-image, wanted to be
positive

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 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 differences in spatial
cognition and behavior

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

shame

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

stinginess, disapproval
of

stop/nonstop contrasts
(in speech sounds)

succession

sucking wounds

sweets preferred

symbolism

symbolic speech

synesthetic metaphors

synonyms

taboos

tabooed foods

tabooed utterances

taxonomy

territoriality

thumb sucking

tickling

time

time, cyclicity of

tools

tool dependency

tool making

tools for cutting

tools to make tools

tools patterned culturally

tools, permament

tools for pounding

toys, playthings

trade

triangular awareness (assessinjg
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

weaning

weapons

weather control (attempts
to)

while (color term)

world view

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