Human Universals

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For those elements, patterns, traits, and institutions that are common to all human cultures worldwide, but may be shared with non-humans, see Cultural universals.
Human Universals
Cover of the first edition
Author Donald Brown
Country United States
Language English
Genre Non-fiction (Cultural anthropology)
Publisher McGraw Hill
Publication date
Media type Print (Cloth)
Pages 220
ISBN 0-87722-841-8
OCLC 22860694

Human Universals is a book by Donald Brown, an American professor of anthropology (emeritus) who worked at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was published by McGraw Hill in 1991. Brown says human universals, "comprise those features of culture, society, language, behavior, and psyche for which there are no known exception."

Those unique to humans[edit]

According to Brown, the following are unique to humans:[1][2]

There are sixty-seven universals in the list:[3] age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organization, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethno-botany, etiquette, faith healing, family feasting, fire-making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift-giving, government, greetings, hair styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic, marriage, mealtimes, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool-making, trade, visiting, weather control, weaving.


He is quoted at length by Steven Pinker in an appendix to The Blank Slate, where Pinker cites some of the hundreds of universals listed by Brown. However, Pinker's universals are not unique to humans.


  1. ^ Brown, Donald E. (1991). Human Universals. New York City: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-87722-841-8. 
  2. ^ As quoted by Pinker
  3. ^ [1]


  • George P. Murdock in Linton, The Science of Man in the World Crisis (1945)
  • Murdock's concepts were updated by Donald E. Brown, Human Universals (1991)

External links[edit]