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Joseph  Henrich

Joseph Henrich

Harvard Professor & Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology


One of the world’s foremost authorities on human evolutionary biology and behavior, anthropologist Joseph Henrich is a noted author, researcher, professor and Chair of Harvard University’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. His research deploys evolutionary theory to understand how human psychology gives rise to cultural evolution and how this, in turn, has shaped our species’ genetic evolution. His most recent book focuses on how people from WEIRD societies (Western Educated Industrial Rich Democratic) differ psychologically from the rest of the world, and how much of our understanding of human behavior is WEIRDly biased. With a travel log on par with Indiana Jones, Dr. Henrich  has conducted long-term anthropological fieldwork in Peru, Chile and the South Pacific and spearheaded several large comparative projects. As a speaker, he brings together examples from around the world, providing fascinating and thought-provoking information on human psychology and behavior that can be applied to economics, marketing, DEI, teaching, public health and understanding cultural differences from a global perspective. Read More >

Dr. Henrich is the author of two popular books written for general audiences. In The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, he explores how genes and cultures have interacted over hundreds of thousands of years. He argues that the “collective brain”—the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from each other over generations is responsible for our extraordinary success as a species and our uniquely human genetic endowments.  Dr. Henrich’s latest book, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous is an eye-opening analysis of how the cultural institutions of the West literally shaped the way people think and led to Western economic, political and military dominance. Citing that 96% of psychological experiments use WEIRD subjects, he also calls for a more inclusive approach to studying our species.

Before moving to Harvard, Dr. Henrich was a professor of both economics and psychology at the University of British Columbia for nearly a decade, where he held the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Cognition and Coevolution. In 2013-14, he held the Peter and Charlotte Schoenenfeld Faculty Fellowship at NYU’s Stern School of Business. His work has appeared in Current Biology, Being Human, Science, Nature and at BBC.com. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

The Secret of Our Success | Talks at Google

Who Are “the Weirdest People in the World?” | Amanpour and Company

How Westerners Became Psychologically Peculiar and Economically Prosperous

The Secret of Our Success Clip

Speech Topics

The Weirdest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar & Particularly Prosperous

Dog. Rabbit. Carrot. If you were to pair two together, which two would you choose? If you’re like most of the world, you’d match the rabbit with the carrot. They gravitate toward holistic thinking that looks for relational or functional connections. But if you’re one of the WEIRD people (from a Western, Educated, Industrialized, and Rich Democratic society), you’re probably an analytic thinker that looks for distinct categories, such as “animals,” “pets” or “mammals.” This is just the beginning of a plethora  of differences between Westerners and the majority of their fellow humans. In his breakthrough book, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous, Harvard professor Joseph Henrich throws long-standing Western-biased perceptions of human thinking and behavior under the bus, calling  for “a more inclusive psychological portrait of Homo sapiens.” Noting that 96% of the subjects in psychology experiments are WEIRD, he contends that the science behind our understanding of human psychology and behavior are seriously skewed. In this fascinating talk, Professor Henrich provides bold new insights into  human behaviors, explaining how we have evolved as a cultural species formed by institutions that literally shape how we think. Drawing together psychology, economics, anthropology and history, he explains the economic, political and military rise of the West, while opening  our eyes to how WEIRD westerners are actually extreme outliers when it comes to psychology and behavior.

The Secrets of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species & Making Us Smarter

What has enabled humans to dominate the globe? How is it that we have produced ingenious technologies, sophisticated languages and complex institutions, yet remain virtually helpless to survive as individuals on our own in the wild? In this fascinating talk, Harvard professor Dr. Joseph Henrich reveals that the secret to our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in our “collective brain”—the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from each other over generations. Linking culture and biology, he demonstrates how our collective brain—and the cultural innovations it created—has propelled both our genetic evolution and extraordinary trajectory as a species. It also proves that that the best way to generate innovation and adaptation is to bring together persons with diverse areas of knowledge, expertise and ways of approaching problems. Weaving tales of lost European explorers and clever chimpanzees into neurological findings and his own anthropological research, Dr. Henrich takes audiences on a whirlwind journey from our ancient past to our modern present, sharing captivating insights that will forever illuminate how you view your own species.