I'm a developmental scientist studying how culture shapes the mind.
I'm currently a postdoctoral researcher in the UC Berkeley Department of Psychology.
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.
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).
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).
As most of what we know about human behavior still comes from people living in WEIRD populations — those that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic — my research employs a cross-cultural perspective to explore the diversity of human behavior around the world.
I frequently work with the Shuar, an Indigenous forager-horticulturalist group living in Amazonian Ecuador, as part of the larger Shuar Health and Life History Project.
Can You Tell a Real Laugh from a Fake One?