Not available in 2022/23
PB301      Half Unit
Cognition and Culture

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Bradley Franks QUE.3.03


This course is available on the BSc in Psychological and Behavioural Science. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

This course discusses the relations between cognition and culture using evolutionary perspectives. The course is therefore suitable for students enrolled in other programmes who wish to enrich their understanding by drawing on detailed understanding of the psychological and cultural processes that underpin thought and behaviour, and to locate them in an evolutionary setting.


Students should have taken Foundations of Behavioural Science (PB100) or Foundations of Psychological Science (PB101).

Course content

This course will offer students an overview of key theoretical approaches and debates concerning the relations between cognition and culture as they are related to evolution. The course will compare and contrast accounts that emphasise the role of mental adaptations with those that emphasise the role of cultural evolution. It will do so via a consideration of a range of empirical domains, such as categorisation, theory of mind, sense of self and religion. Students will be encouraged to integrate the ideas from the course with their wider learning in psychological and behavioural sciences, and to consider the application of those ideas to real world cases and problems.

The course will include topics such as:

  • Relating Cognition and Culture via Evolution
  • Thinking about the Natural World
  • Thinking about the Social World
  • Thinking about (Other) Minds: theory of Mind
  • How Thoughts are Expressed: Language and Thought
  • How Thoughts Get Around: Cultural Transmission
  • Thinking about Ourselves: Self and Identity
  • Thinking about Ultimate Things: Religion
  • Culture and Special-Purposeness
  • Relativity and Universals


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

Formative coursework

1. Essay in the LT

2. Take-home multiple choice quiz in the LT

3. Group-based presentation in the LT

Indicative reading

Dunbar, R. I. & L. Barrett (Eds.). (2007). Oxford handbook of evolutionary psychology. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

Haidt, J. (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Pantheon

Henrich, J. (2016). The secret of our success: How culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Kitayama, S., & Cohen, D. (Eds.) (2007). Handbook of Cultural Psychology. New York: Guilford Press.

Kurzban, R. (2011).  Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite:  Evolution and the modular mind.  Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press.

Laland, K. N. and Brown, G. R. (2002). Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour. Oxford University Press

Nisbett, R. L. (2003). The Geography of Thought. Free Press. 

Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. New York: Viking.

Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (2005). Not by Genes Alone: How culture transformed human evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Students will be expected to read essential readings plus additional reading from the primary literature per class. These readings will be provided in the course outline.


Essay (100%, 2500 words) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: Psychological and Behavioural Science

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills