Ara Norenzayan

Professor of Psychology
University of British Columbia

Co-Director of the Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture (HECC)


Articles and Chapters

The articles and chapters below can be downloaded for personal use only; they are not intended for sale or widespread dissemination.

McNamara, R. A., Willard, A. K., Norenzayan, A., & Henrich, J. (2019). Weighing outcome vs. intent across societies: How cultural models of mind shape moral reasoning. Cognition.

Buchtel, E. E., Ng, L. C. Y., Norenzayan, A., Heine, S. J., Biesanz, J. C., Chen, S. X., . . . Su, Y. (2018). A sense of obligation: Cultural differences in the experience of obligation. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 146167218769610.Purzycki, B. G., Pisor, A. C., Apicella, C., Atkinson, Q., Cohen, E., Henrich, J., . . . Xygalatas, D. (2018). The cognitive and cultural foundations of moral behavior. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39(5), 490-501.White, C. J. M., Norenzayan, A., & Schaller, M. (2018). The content and correlates of belief in karma across cultures. Personality and Social Psychology BulletinGervais, W. M., Norenzayan, A. (2018). Analytic atheism revisited. Nature Human Behaviour, 2, 609. Baimel, A., Birch, S. A. J., Norenzayan, A. (2018). Coordinating bodies and minds: Behavioral synchrony fosters mentalizing. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 74, 281-290.Purzycki, B., Ross, C., Apicella, C., Atkinson, Q., Cohen, E., McNamara, R., . . . Henrich, J. (2018). Material security, life history, and moralistic religions: A cross-cultural examination. Plos One, 13(3), e0193856.
Norenzayan, A. (2017). What can cultural evolution tell us about the human conquest of the planet? In What can evolution tell us about morality? Chicago, IL: Center for Humans & Nature.Purzycki, B. G., Henrich, J. & Norenzayan, A., eds. (2017). The evolution of religion and morality: The random allocation game in eight societies [special issue]. Religion, Brain and Behavior.Purzycki, B. G., Norenzayan, A., Apicella, C., Atkinson, Q., Baimel, A., Cohen, E., McNamara, R. A., Willard, A. K., & Henrich, J. (2017). The evolution of religion and morality: A synthesis of ethnographic and experimental evidence from eight societies. Religion, Brain and Behavior. White, C., Baimel, A., & Norenzayan, A. (2017). What are the causes and consequences of belief in karma? Religion, Brain & Behavior. Willard, A. K. & Norenzayan, A. (2017). “Spiritual but not religious”: Cognition, schizotypy, and conversion in understanding alternative beliefs. Cognition, 165, 137-146.

McNamara, R. A., Norenzayan, A., & Henrich, J. (2016). Supernatural punishment, in-group biases, and material insecurity: Experiments and ethnography from Yasawa, Fiji. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 6, 34-55.Norenzayan, A. (2016). The Origins of Religion. In D. M. Buss, Ed., Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, 2nd Ed.Norenzayan, A. (2016). Theodiversity. Annual Review of Psychology, 67, 21.1-21.24.Norenzayan, A. (2016). Theodiversity. In J. Brockman (Ed.), Edge Volume: [What do you consider the most important [scientific] news? What makes it important?](, A., Shariff, A. F., Gervais, W. M., Willard, A., McNamara, R.,Slingerland, E., & Henrich, J. (2016). The cultural evolution of prosocial religions. Behavioral and Brain Sciences [Target Article].Norenzayan, A. Shariff, A. F., Gervais, W. M., Willard, A., Slingerland, E., & Henrich, J. (2016). Parochial prosocial religions: Historical and contemporary evidence for a cultural evolutionary process. [Response to Commentaries].Purzycki, B. G., Apicella, C., Atkinson, Q., Cohen, E., McNamara, R. A., Willard, A. K., Norenzayan, A., & Henrich, J. (2016). Cross-cultural dataset for the Evolution of Religion and Morality Project. Scientific Data, 3: 16099.Purzycki, B. G., Apicella, C., Atkinson, Q. D., Cohen, E., McNamara, R. A., Willard, A. K., Xygalatas, D., Norenzayan, A., & Henrich, J. (2016). Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality. Nature.Shariff, A. F., Willard, A. K., Andersen, T., & Norenzayan, A. (2016). Religious Priming: A metanalysis with a focus on prosociality. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 20, 27-48.Willard, A. K., Henrich, J. & Norenzayan, A.(2016). Memory and belief in the transmission of counterintuitive content. Human Nature, 27(3), 221-243..Willard, A. K., Shariff, A. F., & Norenzayan, A. (2016). Religious priming as a research tool for studying religion: Evidentiary value, current issues, and future directions. Current Opinion in Psychology, 12, 71-75.

Norenzayan, A. (2015). Big questions about Big Gods: response and discussion. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 5(4), 327-342.Norenzayan, A., & Gervais, W. M. (2015). Secular rule of law erodes believers' political intolerance of atheists. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 5(1), 3-14.
Norenzayan, A. (2014). Does religion make people moral? Behaviour, 151 365-384.
Norenzayan, A., Henrich, J, & E. Slingerland (2013). Religious Prosociality: A Synthesis. In P. J. Richerson & M. H. Christiansen (Eds.), Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language and Religion. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. (Link to Book)Slingerland, E., Henrich, J., & A. Norenzayan (2013) The evolution of prosocial religions. In P. J. Richerson & M. H. Christiansen (Eds.), Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language and Religion. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.Gervais, W. M., & Norenzayan, A. (2013). Religion and the origins of anti-atheist prejudice. Link to book chapter In S. Clarke, R. Powell, & J. Savulescu (Eds.), Intolerance and Conflict: A Scientific and Conceptual Investigation Oxford, UK: Oxford University PressWillard, A. K., & Norenzayan, A. (2013). Cognitive biases explain religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in life’s purpose. Cognition, 129, 379-391. Norenzayan, A., & Gervais, W. M. (2013). The origins of religious disbelief. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17_ 20-25.

Norenzayan, A., Gervais, W., & Trzesniewski, K. (2012). Mentalizing deficits constrain belief in a personal God. PLoS ONE, 7, e36880.Gervais, W. M. & Norenzayan, A. (2012). Analytic thinking promotes religious disbelief. Science, 336, 493-496. Gervais, W. M. & Norenzayan, A. (2012). Reminders of secular authority reduce believers' distrust of atheists. Psychological Science, doi:10.1177/0956797611429711.Norenzayan, A. (March 17, 2012). The idea that launched a thousand civilizations. New Scientist, 213, pp-42-44. [cover story].Norenzayan, A., & Gervais, W. (2012). The cultural evolution of religion. In E. Slingerland & M.Collard (Eds.) Creating Consilience: Integrating science and the humanities. (pp. 243-265). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gervais, W. M., & Norenzayan, A. (2012) Like a camera in the sky? Thinking about God increases public self-awareness and socially desirable responding. Journal of Experimental Social Pychology, 48, 298-302.
Gervais, W. M., Shariff, A. F., & Norenzayan, A. (2011). Do you believe in atheists? Distrust is central to anti-atheist prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 1189-1206.Gervais, W., Willard, A., Norenzayan, A., & Henrich, J. (2011). The cultural transmission of faith: Why innate intuitions are necessary, but insufficient, to explain religious belief. Religion, 41, 389-410.Norenzayan, A. (2011). Explaining human behavioral diversity. Science, 332, 1041-1042. Shariff, A. F., & Norenzayan, A. (2011). Mean Gods make good people: Different views of God predict cheating behavior. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 21, 85-96.

Ginges, J., Hansen, I. G., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). Religious belief, coalitional commitment and support for suicide attacks: Response to Liddle, Machluf and Shakelford. Evolutionary Psychology, 8, 346-349. Falk, C., Dunn, E., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). Cultural variation in the importance of expected emotions in decision making. Social Cognition. Henrich, J., Heine, S.J., & Norenzayan A., (2010). Most People are not WEIRD. Nature, 466, pp. 29.Norenzayan, A., & Lee, A. (2010). It was meant to happen: Explaining cultural variations in fate attributions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 702-720.Norenzayan, A., Shariff, A. F., & Gervais, W. M. (2010). The evolution of religious misbelief. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32, 531-532. Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 61-135. Norenzayan, A. (2010). Why we believe: Religion as a human universal. In H. Hogh-Oleson, (Ed.) Human Morality and Sociality: Evolutionary & Comparative perspectives (pp. 58-71). Palgrave, Macmillan. Norenzayan, A., Schaller, S., & Heine, S. J. (2010). Introduction. In M. Schaller, A. Norenzayan, S. J., Heine, T. Yamagishi, & T. Kameda (Eds.), Evolution, Culture, and the Human Mind. (pp. 1-5) Psychology Press-Taylor & Francis. Shariff, A., Norenzayan, A., & Henrich, J. (2010). The birth of high gods. In M. Schaller, A. Norenzayan, S. J., Heine, T. Yamagishi, & T. Kameda (Eds.), Evolution, Culture, and the Human Mind. (pp. 119-136). Psychology Press-Taylor & Francis.
Norenzayan, A., Dar-Nimrod, I., Hansen, I. G., & Proulx, T. (2009). Mortality Salience and Religion: Divergent Effects on the Defense of Cultural Values for the Religious and the non-Religious. European Journal of Social Psychology 39, 101-113. Ginges, J., Hansen, I. G., & Norenzayan, A. (2009). Religion and support for suicide attacks. Psychological Science, 20, 224-230. Buchtel, E. E. & Norenzayan, A. (2009). Thinking across cultures: Implications for dual processes. In J. Evans & K. Frankish, (Eds.), In two minds: Dual processes and beyond. (pp. 217-238). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Norenzayan, A., & Shariff, A. F. (2008). The origin and evolution of religious prosociality. Science, 322, 58-62. Buchtel, E.E. & Norenzayan, A. (2008). Which should you use, intuition or logic? Cultural differences in injunctive norms about reasoning. Asian Journal of Social Psychology. 11, 264–273. Shariff, A. F., Cohen, A. B., & Norenzayan, A. (2008). The Devil’s Advocate:  Secular arguments diminish both implicit and explicit religious belief. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 8, 417-423.Norenzayan, A., Hansen, I. G., & Cady, J. (2008). An Angry Volcano? Reminders of Death and Anthropomorphizing Nature. Social Cognition, 26, 190-197. Heine, S., Buchtel, E., & Norenzayan, A. (2008). What do Cross-National Comparisons of Personality Traits Tell Us? The Case of Conscientiousness. Psychological Science, 19, 309-313.
Norenzayan, A. (2007). La psychologie interculturelle du raisonnement. In S. Rossi & J. Van der Henst (Eds.) Les psychologies du raisonnement (pp. 169-189). Brussels: De Boeck. Shariff, A.F. & Norenzayan, A. (2007). God is watching you: Priming God concepts increases prosocial behavior in an anonymous economic game. Psychological Science, 18, 803-809.Norenzayan, A., Choi, I., & Peng, K. (2007). Cognition and perception. In S. Kitayama & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of Cultural Psychology (pp. 569-594). New York: Guilford Publications.
Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2006). Toward a psychological science for a cultural species. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 251-269. Norenzayan, A., Atran, S., Faulkner, J., & Schaller, M. (2006). Memory and mystery: The cultural selection of minimally counterintuitive narratives. Cognitive Science, 30, 531-553. Norenzayan, A., & Hansen, I. G. (2006). Belief in supernatural agents in the face of death. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 174-187. Norenzayan, A., & Schwarz, N. (2006). Conversational Relevance in the Presentation of the Self. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 37, 51-54.Norenzayan, A. (2006). Evolution and transmitted culture. Psychological Inquiry, 17, 123-128.Hansen, I. G., & Norenzayan, A. (2006). Between yang and yin and heaven and hell: Untangling the complex relationship between religion and intolerance. In: (P. McNamara, Ed.), Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion. Vol. 3, pp. 187-211. Wesport, CT: Greenwood Press--Praeger Publishers.Norenzayan, A., Schaller, M., & Heine, S. (2006). Evolution and culture. In M. Schaller, J. Simpson, & D. Kenrick (Eds.), Evolution and Social Psychology (pp. 343-366). New York: Psychology Press. Norenzayan, A. (2006). Cultural variation in reasoning. In R. Viale, D. Andler, & L. Hirschfeld (Eds.), Natural and Cultural Bases of Human Inference (pp. 71-95). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Norenzayan, A., & Heine, S. J. (2005). Psychological universals: What are they and how can we know? Psychological Bulletin, 135, 763-784.
Atran, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2004). Religion's evolutionary landscape: Counterintuition, commitment, compassion, communion. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27, 713-770. Atran, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2004). Why minds create gods: Devotion, deception, death, and arational decision making. [reply to commentators]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27, 713-770. Norenzayan, A., & Atran, S. (2004). Cognitive and emotional processes in the cultural transmission of natural and nonnatural beliefs. In M. Schaller & C. Crandall (Eds.), The Psychological Foundations of Culture (pp 149-169). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Choi, I., Choi, J., & Norenzayan, A. (2004). Culture and Decisions. In D. J. Koehler & N. Harvey (Eds.) (pp. 504-524), Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Norenzayan, A., Smith, E. E., & Kim, B., & Nisbett, R. E. (2002). Cultural preferences for formal versus intuitive reasoning. Cognitive Science, 26, 653-684. (Study 2 Stimuli)Norenzayan, A., Choi, I., & Nisbett, R.E. (2002). Cultural similarities and differences in social inference: Evidence from behavioral predictions and lay theories of behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 109-120. Nisbett, R.E., & Norenzayan, A. (2002). Culture and cognition. In H. Pashler & D. L. Medin (Eds.), Stevens Handbook of Experimental Psychology : Cognition (3d Ed., Vol. 2) (pp. 561-597). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Prior to 2002:
Levine, R.V., Norenzayan, A., & Philbrick, K. (2001). Cultural differences in the helping of strangers. Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, 32, 543-560. Nisbett, R.E., Peng, K., Choi, I., & Norenzayan, A. (2001). Culture and systems of thought: Holistic versus analytic cognition. Psychological Review, 108, 291-310. Norenzayan, A., & Nisbett, R. E. (2000). Culture and causal cognition. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 132-135. Norenzayan, A., & Schwarz, N. (1999). Telling what they want to know: Participants tailor causal attributions to researchers’ interests. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29, 1011-1020. Choi, I., Nisbett, R.E., & Norenzayan, A. (1999). Causal attribution across cultures: Variation and universality. Psychological Bulletin,125, 47-63. Levine, R.V., & Norenzayan, A. (1999). The Pace of life in 31 countries. Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, 30, 178-205. Norenzayan, A., Choi, I., & Nisbett, R.E. (1999). Eastern and Western perceptions of causality for social behavior: Lay theories about personalities and situations. In D. A. Prentice & D. T. Miller (Eds.), Cultural divides: Understanding and overcoming group conflict (pp. 239-272). New York: Sage. Levine, R.V., Norenzayan, A., & Klicperova-Baker, M. (1999). Civility in a cross-cultural perspective. In M. Klicperova-Baker (Ed.), Ready for democracy? Civic culture and civility with a focus on Czech Society (pp. 161-184). Prague: Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.


Norenzayan, A. (2013). Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict. Princeton University Press.

How did human societies scale up from small, tight-knit groups of hunter-gatherers to the large, anonymous, cooperative societies of today--even though anonymity is the enemy of cooperation? How did organized religions with "Big Gods"--the great monotheistic and polytheistic faiths--spread to colonize most minds in the world? In Big Gods, Ara Norenzayan makes the surprising and provocative argument that these fundamental puzzles about the origins of civilization are one and the same, and answer each other.

Once human minds could conceive of supernatural beings, Norenzayan argues, the stage was set for rapid cultural and historical changes that eventually led to large societies with Big Gods--powerful, omniscient, interventionist deities concerned with regulating the moral behavior of humans. How? As the saying goes, "watched people are nice people." It follows that people play nice when they think Big Gods are watching them, even when no one else is. Yet at the same time that sincere faith in Big Gods unleashed unprecedented cooperation within ever-expanding groups, it also introduced a new source of potential conflict between competing groups.

In some parts of the world, such as northern Europe, secular institutions have precipitated religion's decline by usurping its community-building functions. These societies with atheist majorities--some of the most cooperative, peaceful, and prosperous in the world--climbed religion's ladder, and then kicked it away. So while Big Gods answers fundamental questions about the origins and spread of world religions, it also helps us understand another, more recent social transition -- the rise of cooperative societies without belief in gods.

Schaller, M., Norenzayan, A., Heine, S. J., Yamagishi, T., & Kameda, T. (Eds.). (2010). Evolution, Culture, and the Human Mind. Psychology Press--Taylor & Francis.

An enormous amount of scientific research compels two fundamental conclusions about the human mind: The mind is the product of evolution; and the mind is shaped by culture. These two perspectives on the human mind are not incompatible, but, until recently, their compatibility has resisted rigorous scholarly inquiry. Evolutionary psychology documents many ways in which genetic adaptations govern the operations of the human mind. But evolutionary inquiries only occasionally grapple seriously with questions about human culture and cross-cultural differences. By contrast, cultural psychology documents many ways in which thought and behavior are shaped by different cultural experiences. But cultural inquires rarely consider evolutionary processes. Even after decades of intensive research, these two perspectives on human psychology have remained largely divorced from each other. But that is now changing - and that is what this book is about.

Evolution, Culture, and the Human Mind is the first scholarly book to integrate evolutionary and cultural perspectives on human psychology. The contributors include world-renowned evolutionary, cultural, social, and cognitive psychologists. These chapters reveal many novel insights linking human evolution to both human cognition and human culture – including the evolutionary origins of cross-cultural differences. The result is a stimulating introduction to an emerging integrative perspective on human nature.


Principal Investigator:

Ara Norenzayan, Ph.D.

Office:CIRS Building, Room 4354
Contact:ara (at)
Academic Interests:Thinking across cultures; Religious cognition, supernatural beliefs; Psychological foundations of culture; Issues of cultural variability and universality; Cultural evolution

Graduate Students:

Adam Baimel, Ph.D. Candidate

Office:Kenny Building, Room 2202
Contact: adambaimel (at)
Academic Interests:Awe and meaning making; Eco-spirituality and environmental sacred values; Religious cognition and rituals; Theory of Mind/Mentalizing

Cindel White, Ph.D. Candidate

Office:Kenny Building, Room 3526
Contact: cwhite (at)
Academic Interests: Karma; Religion, morality, and mind perception; Evolution of social cognition and culture

Lab Manager:

Vanessa Kong

Office: Kenny Building, Room 2202
Contact: mecclabs (at)
Academic Interests: Decision making; Social cognition

Selected Lab Alumni:

Adam Baimel, Postdoctoral Researcher, Oxford University.

Rita McNamara, Lecturer in Cross Cultural Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington.

Aiyana Willard, Lecturer, Brunel University London.

Jonathan Lanman, Lecturer, Queen's University Belfast.

Miriam Matthews, Faculty Member, Pardee RAND Graduate School.

Roy Spina, Senior Lecturer, University of Chichester in West Sussex.

Ben Purzycki, Research Scientist, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Will Gervais, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Azim Shariff, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia.

Emma Buchtel, Associate Professor, Educational University of Hong Kong.

Ilan dar-Nimrod, Lecturer, University of Sydney.

Ian Hansen, Assistant Professor, City University of New York, York College.

Albert Lee, Assistant Professor, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.


Fall Term 2019
Psychology 308A Social Psychology


Mailing address:
2136 West Mall
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4 CANADA