Cultural Universal

A cultural universal 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. 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.’

Anthropological universals include: Language and Cognition (e.g. language employed to manipulate others, language employed to misinform or mislead, binary cognitive distinctions, color terms for black and white, figurative speech and metaphors, taboo utterances, and units of time); Society (e.g. personal names, families, laws, moral sentiments, promises, prestige inequalities, statuses and roles, leaders, property, gender roles, male dominated public/political realm, males more aggressive and more prone to violence and theft, marriage, incest avoidance, rape prohibitions, etiquette, inheritance rules, gift giving, redress of wrongs, sexual jealousy, shame, territoriality, visiting, and trade); Myth and Ritual (e.g. magical thinking, dream interpretation, proverbs, poetry, medicine, rites of passage, music, dance, play, toys, mourning, feasting, body adornment, and hairstyles); and Technology (e.g. shelter, control of fire, tools, weapons, containers, cooking, levers, tying and weaving).

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