NYU Urban Seminar Series

Joe Henrich on Culture and Social Norms

Maya Salwen Maya Salwen

Thank you to Joe Henrich for leading a discussion about culture and social norms.

Norms, culture, preferences, beliefs and institutions are all a function of our biology. We have evolved a capacity for culture because culture accumulates rapidly, paving the way for larger brains, and creating increasingly large pools of information.


Cultural learning helps humans acquire tastes and preferences that they might not otherwise have. For example, the chili pepper’s “hot” flavor is technically causing pain. Primates and infants won’t eat them due to this, but many adult humans have acquired a taste for the peppers because they are part of the cuisine in hot locations.

You can find the full presentation here.

Tile image: Christoph.

Joe Henrich

Joe Henrich

Visiting Faculty Fellow, NYU Stern

Joe Henrich is a Peter and Charlotte Schoenfeld Visiting Faculty Fellow at NYU Stern and the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Cognition and Coevolution at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Henrich is also a professor in the departments of economics and psychology at the University of British Columbia and a fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. He received his PhD in Anthropology from UCLA in 1999. His theoretical work focuses on how natural selection has shaped human learning and how this in turn influences cultural evolution and culture-gene coevolution. This work has explored the evolution of conformist learning and human status, as well as the emergence of large-scale cooperation, norms, social stratification, world religions and monogamous marriage.

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