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I'm a psychologist studying how culture shapes the mind.

I'm currently a postdoctoral researcher in the UC Berkeley Department of Psychology. Starting July 2024, I will begin a new position as an Assistant Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University and Director of the Duke Mind & Culture Lab.

Research Interests

Humans are a remarkable species, numbering in the billions and inhabiting every single ecology on the planet. How do we pull this off?

One secret to our success is culture. We have incredibly diverse bodies of knowledge that orient us to our social and ecological worlds.

 

But another big part of our success concerns development. Humans have a unique developmental trajectory, with an extended period of dependence we call childhood. Childhood is an incredibly flexible and sensitive life stage primarily devoted to learning — both individually and socially — about the very specific world we inhabit, in contrast to the many million possible worlds we could inhabit.

My research examines this dynamic and uniquely human process, focusing on how our behavior, preferences, and decision-making are shaped across diverse cultural environments.

Research

Research Highlights

How do our early environments shape our preferences?

My work suggests that our childhood environments have long-lasting impacts on our preferences, with less-resourced environments leading to more risk-aversion (Amir et al., 2019, JESP; Amir et al., 2016 PLoS), and more present-orientation (Amir et al., 2018, JEP:G).

 

These results suggest that, as opposed to being viewed as deficits, behaviors like present-orientation are better viewed as rational and environmentally-informed behavioral strategies.

What forces shape cooperative behavior?

My work with children of diverse societies suggests that cooperative behavior is shaped by a shared psychology for learning culturally-specific norms and integrating those norms into behavior, particularly in middle childhood (Amir et al., 2023, JEP:G; Amir et al., preprint).

 

Children are also sophisticated social learners, showing early sensitivity to reciprocity (Amir et al., 2021, Dev Psych), and intent (Amir et al, 2021, JECP) in their cooperative behaviors.

How does culture shape concepts of social status?

My work with children of diverse societies suggests that children’s subjective rankings are internally consistent, reliable, and universally decline with age.

 

Further, children’s subjective evaluations appear to be shaped by the degree of hierarchy in their social networks (Amir et al., 2019, PLoS). 

How should we theorize about human childhood?

Our theories about the function and importance of human childhood can be strengthened through cross-cultural, developmental science. In particular, we can benefit from investigating both the breadth of behavioral variation across cultures, and the depth of that variation within societies (Amir & McAuliffe, 2020, EHB). 

We should also check our assumptions about the expected human childhood in clinical work; human children likely experienced both higher levels of and variance in adversity across historical time (Frankenhuis & Amir, 2022, Dev Psychopathol).

Science Outreach

POPULAR SCIENCE
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How Does Where Grow Up Impact Who You Become?
 

2022, The Garden

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How Industrialization Changed Childhood
 

2019, TED | TEDxCambridge

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Love, Death, and Other Forgotten Traditions 

Nautilus Magazine

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What is Childhood?
 

Radio New Zealand

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Human Vestigial Structures Are Evolutionary Leftovers

Buzzfeed News

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Kids These Days
 

Boston College Magazine

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Evolutionary Anthropology
Live "Phone-In"

BBC Radio 5

Press Coverage

Can You Tell a Real Laugh from a Fake One?


 

Science Magazine

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Personality is Not Only About Who But Also Where You Are

Aeon Magazine

Get in touch

Duke University

Department of Psychology 

417 Chapel Dr

Durham, NC 27708

Dorsa.amir@duke.edu

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CONTACT
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