Research Areas

In collaboration with psychologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists around the world, AnthroLab applies the tools of psychological science—experimental methodologies, psychometrics, longitudinal surveys, cross-cultural surveys, and psychophysiological measures—to answer fundamental questions about human beings. Why are we religious? How are moral norms transmitted? Are collective rituals  psychologically and socially beneficial? How are tight nonkin social bonds formed? Our research interests may be grouped under three overlapping themes. Do feel free to contact us for more information, and to express interest in working with us.


Religion and morality

Religion—the belief in supernatural agents—is cross-culturally and historically ubiquitous, though there is variation in how gods are conceptualised. Similarly, while there is a diversity of moral opinion, the basic tendency to make moral judgements seems deeply rooted in human nature. Researchers at AnthroLab are investigating the cultural, cognitive, and evolutionary processes that shape how humans reason about gods and values, and exploring the ways in which religion and morality co-evolved. 

Beginning January 2017, this project will be supported by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, under the topic Cognitive and Cultural Foundations of Religion and Morality. Our research activities will include a large multinational survey, as well as field experiments based in nonWestern and nonAbrahamic contexts. Do contact us for collaborative opportunities. 

Recent publications:

  1. Wilson, D. S., Hartberg, Y., MacDonald, I., Lanman, J. A., & Whitehouse, H. (2016). The nature of religious diversity: a cultural ecosystem approach. Religion, Brain & Behavior. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2015.1132243
  2. McKay, R., & Whitehouse, H. (2014). Religion and morality. Psychological Bulletin, 141, 447-473.
  3. Jackson, J., Halberstadt, J., Jong, J., & Felman, H. (2015). Perceived openness to experience accounts for religious homogamy. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6, 630-638.
  4. Jong, J. & Halberstadt, J., Bluemke, M. (2012). Foxhole atheism, revisited: The effects of mortality salience on explicit and implicit religious belief. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 983-989.

Collective rituals

Rituals are, as we understand it, shared conventional actions, as opposed to intrumental behaviours. From shaking hands to hazing, from the Mexican wave to firewalking, from Roman Catholic mass to Shinto misogi, human social life is replete with collective rituals that come in diverse forms.  Here at AnthroLab, we seek to understand why human beings participate in rituals, and why certain features of rituals—behavioural synchrony, causal opacity, emotional intensity, pain—recur across cultures. Is there some evolutionary function to our readiness to learn and transmit behavioural conventions?

Beginning October 2016, this project will be supported by the European Research Council, under the topic Divergent Modes of Ritual, Social Cohesion, Prosociality, and ConflictDo contact us for collaborative opportunities. 

Recent publications:

  1. Reddish, P., Tong, E. M. W., Jong, J., Lanman, J. A., & Whitehouse, H. (2016). Collective synchrony increases prosociality towards non-performers and outgroup members. British Journal of Social Psychology. doi:10.1111/bjso.12165

  2. Watson-Jones, R. E., Legare, C. H., Whitehouse, H., & Clegg, J. M. (2014). Task-specific effects of ostracism on imitative fidelity in early childhood. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 204-210.
  3. Whitehouse, H, & Lanman, J. (2014). The ties that bind us. Current Anthropology, 55, 674-695.
  4. Whitehouse, H. (2012). Ritual, cognition, and evolution. In R. Sun (ed), Grounding the social sciences in the cognitive sciences (pp. 265-284). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Social bonding

Human beings form social bonds, not only with genetic kin, but much more broadly, even with strangers. We form relational ties with people around us, and also categorical ties with people whom we might never meet but are nevertheless members of our ingroups. At AnthroLab, we investigate the causes and consequences of these two main types of social bonding. We are particularly interested in identity fusion, which is a kind of social bondingcharacterised by a visceral feeling of oneness with the group, such that the borders between one’s personal and social selves are porous.

Recent publications:

  1. Halberstadt, J., Jackson, J. C., Bilkey, D., Jong, J., Whitehouse, H., McNaughton, C., & Zollman, S. (2016). Incipient social groups: an analysis via in-vivo behavioral tracking. PLOS One.
  2. Jong, J., Whitehouse, H., Kavanagh, C., & Lane, J. (2015). Shared negative experiences lead to identity fusion via personal reflection. PLOS One. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0145611
  3. Whitehouse, H., McQuinn, B., Buhrmester, M.D., & Swann, W.B. (2014). Brothers in arms: Libyan revolutionaries bond like family. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 17783-17785.
  4. Swann, W. B., Jr., Jetten, J., Gómez, Á. Whitehouse, H., & Bastian, B. (2012). When group membership gets personal: A theory of identity fusion. Psychological Review, 119, 441-456.