Joseph Henrich | WEIRD Minds: How religion, marriage and the family made the West psychologically peculiar and particularly prosperous

Apr 5, 2023 | Announcements, News & Media

World-renowned biological anthropologist and best-selling author to deliver the fourth Ramsay Lecture for 2023

Sydney, Wednesday, 05 April 2023: Do people in the West think differently to other populations across the globe? Are they psychologically peculiar? If so, why: and what role has this point of difference played in the rise of the industrialised world, and the recent dominance and prosperity of the West?

To explore the ‘WEIRD’ nature of the West and how it was created, the Ramsay Centre is pleased to announce that Joseph Henrich, the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University, will deliver our fourth Ramsay Lecture for 2023.

In this lecture, Professor Henrich will draw on the main thesis of his 2020 best-seller, The WEIRDest People In The World: that centuries of accumulated cultural and social behaviours, stemming not least from a marriage policy of the Catholic Church a millennium and a half ago, have made Westerners WEIRD, Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic.

He will show that an accumulating body of evidence now reveals not only substantial global variation along several important psychological dimensions, including conformity, individualism, moral judgment, guilt, patience, trust and analytic thinking, but also that people from WEIRD societies are particularly unusual, often anchoring the ends of global psychological distributions.

“In explaining these patterns, I first show how the most fundamental of human institutions—those governing marriage and family—influence our motivations, perceptions, intuitions and emotions,” Professor Henrich says.

“Then, to explain the peculiar trajectory of European societies over the second millennium, I lay out how one particular branch of Christianity—the Western Catholic Church—systematically dismantled the intensive kin-based institutions in much of Latin Christendom, effectively altering people’s psychology and opening the door to new forms of voluntary organizations (charter towns, universities, guilds, monasteries), impersonal markets and eventually modern organizational competition. These psychological and social changes set the stage for the rise of democratic governments, the success of Protestantism and the relentless innovation that fuelled the industrial revolution.”

Before Harvard, Professor Henrich was a professor of both Economics and Psychology at the University of British Columbia, where he held the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Cognition and Coevolution. His research deploys evolutionary theory to understand how human psychology gives rise to cultural evolution and how this has shaped our species’ biological evolution. Using insights generated from this approach, Professor Henrich has explored a variety of topics, including economic decision-making, social norms, fairness, religion, marriage, prestige, cooperation and innovation.

In 2004 he won the Presidential Early Career Award for young scientists, and in 2009 the Early Career Award for Distinguished Contributions bestowed by the Human Behaviour and Evolution Society. In 2013-14, Professor Henrich held the Peter and Charlotte Schoenfeld Faculty Fellowship at NYU’s Stern School of Business. In 2018, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology awarded him the Wegner Prize for Theoretical Innovation. From 2010 to 2019, Professor Henrich was a senior fellow in the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in the Institutions, Organizations and Growth group and he became a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2021. In 2016 he published The Secret of Our Success (Princeton), and in 2020 The WEIRDest People in the World.

**This will be a live Ramsay Lecture, held at The Gold Melting Room at The Mint, Macquarie Street, Sydney on Friday 14 April 2023 from 6pm – 8pm. To attend register your interest at:

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/