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Nicole J. Wen

Ph.D. | Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Psychology
Director of the Culture and Minds Lab
Centre for Culture and Evolution

Brunel University London

I am a developmental psychologist studying the ontogeny of social learning strategies and cooperative behaviors within and across cultures.


Click here for my CV.  


I am currently a Lecturer in Psychology in the Centre for Culture and Evolution at Brunel University London and Director of the Culture and Minds Lab


I completed a postdoctoral fellowship from 2018-2020 in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. In Dr. Felix Warneken’s Social Minds Lab, I studied the development of social cognition and the role of cultural conventions in children’s cooperation.  

I received my Ph.D. in Psychology and portfolio in Applied Statistical Modeling from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018. In Dr. Cristine Legare’s  Evolution, Variation and Ontogeny of Learning Laboratory, my research explored how children identify and acquire cultural conventions to affiliate with social groups. I also examined how children flexibly use imitation and innovation for cultural learning and how this is socialized in both the U.S. and Vanuatu. I graduated from UT Austin with a B.S. in Psychology with Departmental Honors, a B.A. in Plan II Honors with Departmental Honors, and a minor in History in 2013. I also received my M.A. in Psychology from UT Austin in 2015. 

I received the 2022 Cultural Evolution Society New Investigator Award, 2017 APF Elizabeth M. Koppitz Child Psychology Fellowship and the 2016 UT Austin University Graduate Continuing Fellowship

I was a Museum Science Communication Fellow through the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History and worked with the University of Michigan Living Lab to make science and research accessible to families in the community. 



I study cognitive and social development from an interdisciplinary perspective using a variety of methods to examine how children learn within and across cultures. I have explored how children flexibly use imitation and innovation for cultural learning and how this is socialized in both the U.S. and Vanuatu. Recently, I examined how cultural conventions, such as rituals, facilitate social group cohesion through in-group affiliation, group displays, and group monitoring.

I am currently examining the role of cultural conventions in children’s cooperation. Specifically, I am exploring how rituals may influence children’s cooperative behaviors toward in- and out-group members, specifically looking at altruistic motivations and fairness norms. I will examine the relationship between ritual and resource sharing, helping behaviors, third-party punishment, and inequity aversion. I propose that humans are psychologically prepared to engage in ritual as a means of in-group cohesion.



+Undergraduate student, ^Graduate Student, *Joint first-authorship


1. Wen, N. J.*, Lo, S. L.*, & Miller, A. L. (2023). Mindfulness processes that mitigate COVID-related stress exposure in parents in the United States. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 33, 352-366. doi: 10.1007/s10826-023-02681-2  PDF 


2. Wen, N. J.*, Clegg, J. M.*, & Legare, C. H. (2023) Cooperative signaling in the sandbox: Future directions for examining collective ritual in child development. Invited Commentary. Religon, Brain, and Behaviour. doi: 10.1080/2153599X.2023.2214398  PDF 

3. Clegg, J. M., Wen, N. J., & Rawlings, B. S. (2022). Culture is an optometrist: Cultural contexts adjust the prescription of social learning bifocals. Invited commentary. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X22001376  PDF 

4. Clegg, J. M., Wen, N. J., +Hartman, P. E., +Alcott, A., +Keltner, E., & Legare, C. H. (2021). Teaching through collaboration: Flexibility and diversity in caregiver–child interaction across cultures. Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.13443  PDF 

5. Wen, N. J., Willard, A. K., +Caughy, M., & Legare, C. H. (2020). Watch me, watch you: Ritual participation increases in-group displays and out-group monitoring in children. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2019-0437  PDF  |  DATA 

6. Wen, N. J., Clegg, J. M., & Legare, C. H. (2019). Smart conformists: Children and adolescents associate conformity with intelligence early across cultures. Child Development, 90(3) 746-758. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12935  PDF 

7. Legare, C. H., Clegg, J. M., & Wen, N. J. (2018). Evolutionary developmental psychology: 2017 redux. Child Development, 89(6), 2282-2287. doi: 10.1111/cdev.13021  PDF 

8. Clegg, J. M., Wen, N. J., & Legare, C. H. (2017). ). Is non- conformity WEIRD? Cultural variation in adults’ beliefs about children’s conformity and competency. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146(3), 428-441. doi: 10.1037/xge0000275  PDF  |  DATA 

9. Wen, N. J., Herrmann, P. A. & Legare, C. H. (2016). Ritual increases children’s affiliation with in-group members. Evolution and Human Behavior, 37(1) 54-60. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2015.08.002  PDF 

10. Legare, C. H., Wen, N. J., Herrmann, P. A., & Whitehouse, H. (2015). Imitative flexibility and the development of cultural learning. Cognition, 142, 351-361. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2015.05.020  PDF 


1. Watson-Jones, R. E., Wen, N. J., & Legare, C. H. (2017). The psychological foundations of ritual learning. In M. Gelfand, C. Chiu and Y. Hong (Eds). Advances in culture and psychology. Oxford University Press.  Link 

2. Legare, C. H., Wen, N. J., & Watson-Jones, R. E. (2016). Ritual. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of lifespan human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.  PDF 


3. Legare, C. H., & Wen, N. J. (2014). The effects of ritual on social group cognition. The International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development Bulletin, 66(2), 9-12.  PDF 




1. Gervais, W. M. & Wen, N. J. (under review). Atheism Comes Easily: How disbelief can reshape theory on the cognitive and evolutionary origins of religion.

2. ^Kertesz, A. F.*, Fong, F. T. K*, Clegg, J. M., Erut, A., Nielsen, M., Wen, N. J., & Legare, C. H. (under review). WEIRD Adults have gender-stereotypical expectations about high-fidelity copying in children.  Pre-registration 


1. Wen, N. J., Clegg, J. M., +Estrera, S. E., Fong, F. T. K., ^Kertesz, A. F., Erut, A., Nielsen, M. & Legare, C. H. (in prep). The ontogeny of American individualism: Individual differences in the association between non-conformity and intelligence.  Pre-registration 

2. Wen, N. J. & Warneken, F. (in prep). Children use ritual and instrumental competency to infer who is a more prosocial sharer and helper.  Pre-registration 

3. Wen, N. J.*, Clegg, J. M.*, +Cicardo, C. G., +Jacome, A. P., & Legare, C. H. (in prep). Cultural variation in first- versus third-party attention and imitation.

4. Kline, M. A., & Wen, N. J. (in prep). A close look at cultural learning: Proximate mechanisms across theoretical perspectives.

5. Fong, F. T. K.*, ^Kertesz, A. F.*, Clegg, J. M., Erut, A., Wen, N. J., Nielsen, M., & Legare, C. H. (in prep). Underlying rationales of adults’ association of children’s conformity and desirable traits.  Pre-registration 


Click below to download the most recent version of my CV.


Cultures & Minds Lab

If you are interested in joining the Culture & Minds Lab, please email me at

You can also visit us on twitter


Teaching & Mentorship

As an interdisciplinary cognitive developmental scientist and educator, I have three primary pedagogical goals: (1) to facilitate the development of critical thinking skills, (2) to foster an understanding of how basic research can be applied in social and educational policy and practice, and (3) to promote understanding of the diversity of human experience. These goals work in concert to provide students with essential knowledge and skills that can be applied to any profession they choose to pursue. I have received the 2016 UT Austin Psychology Department Janet T. Spence Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, the 2017 UT Austin IE Program JoyLynn Hailey Reed Graduate Mentorship Award, and hold an Inclusive Classrooms Leadership Certificate from UT Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.


I am currently a Lecturer in Psychology at Brunel University London. I was a lab instructor and teaching assistant in the Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. Please feel free to contact me for a summary of my teaching evaluations, teaching statement, and sample syllabus.



I have supervised multiple talented honors thesis students through the Psychology Departmental Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin and the Psychology Departmental Honors Program and the University of Michigan. 



I have trained teams of research assistants in the Culture & Minds Lab (Divsion of Psychology, Brunel University London), the Social Minds Lab (Psychology Department, University of Michigan), the Evolution, Variation, and Ontogeny of Learning Lab (Psychology Department, UT Austin) and through the Research and Field Experience Internship Program (Psychology Department, St. Edward’s University). I have also mentored interns through the Michigan Summer Program in Cognition and Early Development (Psychology Department, University of Michigan), which trains students in developmental psychological research. I also have mentored through the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate School Internship Program (Moody College of Communication, UT Austin), which connects undergraduates with graduate students to explore the unique aspects of graduate study that make it distinct from the undergraduate experience. Additionally, I have mentored interns through the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience Program (Psychology Department, UT Austin), which provides hands-on training to undergraduate students (from traditionally underrepresented groups) planning to apply to doctoral training programs.


Courses Taught

  • Developmental Psychology- MSc Postgraduate (PY5603, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023)

  • Developmental Psychology-BSc Undergraduate (PY2602, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023)

  • Foundations of Cross-Cultural Psychology- MSc Postgraduate (PY5705, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023)

  • Special Topics in Culture and Evolution- MSc Postgraduate (PY5615, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023)

  • Conceptual and Historical Issues in Psychology- BSc Undergraduate (PY2601, Fall 2020)

  • Statistics and Research Design- Undergraduate (PSY 418, Spring 2016, taught 2 courses simultaneously)

  • Honors Thesis Research II- Undergraduate (PSY 379H, Fall 2015)

  • Honors Thesis Research I- Undergraduate (PSY 359H, Spring 2015)

Honors Thesis Students Advised


Caroline Maywood

University of Michigan

"Children’s Expectations and Judgements of Conformity to Ritual Activities"

Stephanie Estrera

The University of Texas at Austin

"Variation in U.S. adults’ perceptions of children’s intelligence"

Michaela Caughy

The University of Texas at Austin

"The relationship between ritual-play and group affiliation mediated by self-regulation"

McKenzie Ratcliffe

The University of Texas at Austin

"Ritual’s effect on instrumental tool use"

Interns & Research Assistants Trained

MSPICED PROGRAM, University of Michigan

  • 2019: Anna Groffsky


RAS TRAINED, University of Michigan

  • 2019-2020: Max Baron, Susan He, Caroline Maywood, Rachel Miller, Amy Nowack, Angela Shi, Madeline Taylor, Jazmine Thomas, Olivia Waelchli, Erin Yi, Price Zimmer

  • 2018-2019: Anna Barr, Alisa Cui, Amanda Golden Eddy, Anna Groffsky, Emily Levy, Caroline Maywood, Alex Parks, Annie Rashes, Ryan Rich, Kari Sherwood, Aashika Sulabelle, Irein Thomas, Jiayin Yuan 

IE PROGRAM, The University of Texas at Austin

  • 2017-2018: Felicia Calo, Jensen Edwards, Hong (Anh) Nguyen, Keonnie Parilla (Kuhn Scholar)

  • 2016-2017: Mahera Badat (Kuhn Scholar), Michaela Caughy, Quyen (Sally) Do, Stephanie Estrera, Ana Jacome, Yasmeen Nofal 

  • 2015-2016: Shama Momin (Kuhn Scholar), Anisa Nabily, Isabella Prines, Michelle Ross, Debbie Yeh

  • 2014-2015: Stephanie Gonzalez, McKenzie Ratcliffe, Holly Weir


SURE PROGRAM, The University of Texas at Austin

  • 2017: Atira Hinton  

  • 2016: Angelica Langdon

  • 2015: Evelyn Mendoza

  • 2014: Victoria Vento


RAS TRAINED, The University of Texas at Austin

  • 2017-2018: Felicia Calo, Jensen Edwards, Keyun Li, Keonnie Parilla

  • 2016-2017: Michaela Caughy, Stephanie Estrera, Hong (Anh) Nguyen, Yasmeen Nofal

  • 2015-2016: Mahera Badat, Quyen (Sally) Do, Eunice Iyalho, Shirley Li

  • 2014-2015: Leah Duran, Shama Momin, Anisa Nabily, McKenzie Ratcliffe

  • 2013-2014: Adam Alcott, Niki Akhaiveissy, Andrea Arguetta, Joseph Barron, Stephanie Gonzalez, Cintia Hinojosa, Dorothy Pang, Isabella Prines, Michelle Ross, Allison Tsao, Monica Vela, Holly Weir, Debbie Yeh

  • 2011-2013: Christine Chevis, Brittani Cobb, Katherine Cullum, Monica Demkowicz, Claudia Garate, Lauren Gragg, Paige Hartman, Eric Harvey, Anna Johnson, Abby Lavine, Riley Little, Sarah Mohkamkar, Rebecca Nekolaichuk, Ariana Stern-Luna, Lukas Thompson, Maya Zein


  • 2014-2015: Carmen Cardenas

  • 2012-2013: Adrienne Fowler

  • 2011-2012: Lacey Hutchison, Michelle Jorgenson, Tiffany Roshanian


Media & Press


"How the 'Western mind' was shaped by the Medieval Church"

-BBC Future

January 4, 2021

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 2.58.39 PM.png

"An anthropologist explains why we love holiday rituals and traditions"

-The Conversation

December 12, 2017


"Little kids choose to imitate or mix it up" 


July 28, 2015


"Why do we miss the rituals put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic?"​

-Science News

August 14, 2020


"Opinion: In education, what we say we want isn’t what is taught"

-East Bay Times

September 15, 2017


"Selective imitation makes for precocious social learners"​


-Neuroscience News

July 27, 2015


"What Pancake Day and the royal wedding have in common"

-New Statesman

February 13, 2018


"Conformity is not a universal indicator of intelligence in children, study says"

-Texas Liberal Arts New

March 9, 2017


"Selective imitation shows children are flexible social learners, study finds"


July 27, 2015


Let's Connect

Brunel University London
Centre for Culture & Evolution

Division of Psychology
Department of Life Sciences
Kingston Lane
Middlesex UB8 3PH

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