Campus Box 1114
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
In my work I combine experimental (laboratory) studies with field research to answer the following question: What cognitive processes are engaged in the acquisition, use and transmission of cultural knowledge? One way to answer this is to study cognitive development, the period during which initially similar brains receive information that will make them conversant with a particular set of cultural norms and concepts. In the past I have used such developmental studies, combined with fieldwork, to describe and perhaps explain some aspects of the transmission of religious concepts. More generally, the aim of all this is to show how human brains, by virtue of their evolutionary history, share certain conceptual dispositions which in turn make certain kinds of cultural concepts particularly easy to learn and transmit, and therefore very frequent in otherwise diverse human cultures. I also use these psychological and anthropological techniques to describe the interaction between "collective memory," how people in a group remember their past, and "individual memory," in particular autobiographical memory. My most recent work bears on the early development of concepts of agency and personhood (what makes persons and animals different from inert objects) and on early mathematical concepts, as well as on the specifically human neural structures that support such competencies.
1994 The Naturalness of Religious Ideas. A Cognitive Theory of Religion, Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press.
2001 Cultural Inheritance Tracks and Cognitive Predispositions: The Example of Religious Concepts, in H. Whitehouse (Ed.), The Debated Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and Ethnography, Oxford: Berg, pp. 57-89.
2001 Religion Explained. The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, London: Random House, New York: Basic Books.
2001 (with Bedoin, N. & Honoré, S.) Relative contributions from kind- and domain-concepts to inferences concerning unfamiliar exemplars, Cognitive Development 15: 345- 362.
2003 Religious Thought and Behaviour As By-products of Brain Function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7(3):119-124.
Cognition and Culture (L48 3383)
Topics in Cognitive Development (L33 4301)
Autobiographical Memory (L33 4625)