Rita McNamara


Teaching in 2018


BA(Hons) (Washington University in St. Louis), MA, PhD (University of British Columbia)

Research interests

From the cradle to the grave, people are constantly navigating a complicated maze of social interactions. We often negotiate these interactions by using our intuitive understanding of minds to 'read' others who may be present or absent, observable or unobservable, real or imagined.

Our perception of minds is a fundamental building block underlying the intuitions about right and wrong that we use to negotiate these interactions. But our intuitions and perceptions are also dependent upon cultural influences that have themselves been sculpted by environmental adaptive challenges. Different cultural practices and beliefs reflect the social and ecological pressures people face, social cognition within these diverse settings is molded to meet the demands of the environment through culture. Though there are broad similarities everywhere, a truly comprehensive picture of the human mind requires an account of how different cultural groups solve the same age-old problems.

My work taps in to this broader picture by combining social psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive anthropology, and behavioural economics to examine how social-cognitive processes unfold in and are shaped by the context of culture. I gather data through laboratory studies in university settings and through ethnographic fieldwork conducted with people living in small villages in rural Fiji. The cross-cultural comparative work in my research can lend further insight into how culture moulds psychology to particular local forms or to more universal challenges across the lifespan.

My work thus far has focused on three main themes:

1) How religious beliefs influence decisions to cooperate with various social others

2) How norms about inferring other's mental states and cultural models of mind influence moral reasoning and judgements

3) How perceptions of resource security intersect with religious beliefs and local cultural norms to promote local or more distant social interests

Research website



Selected publications


Teaching in 2018