Mongolian yos surtakhuun and WEIRD “morality”

  • Renatas BerniūnasEmail author
Research Paper


“Morality” is a Western term that brings to mind all sorts of associations. In contemporary Western moral psychology it is a commonplace to assume that people (presumably across all cultures and languages) will typically associate the term “moral” with actions that involve considerations of harm and/or fairness. But is it cross-culturally a valid claim? The current work provides some preliminary evidence from Mongolia to address this question. The word combination of yos surtakhuun is a Mongolian translation of the Western term “moral”. However, freelisting data indicates that Mongolians do not typically associate the term yos surtakhuun with actions that involve considerations of harm and/or fairness. Instead, the most cognitively salient category is respect (khündlekh). The lack of convergence between moral and yos surtakhuun suggests that the term “moral” does not refer to universal “moral” cognition that specifically deals with harm and/or fairness. On the contrary, I would argue that the term “moral” brings to mind exclusively WEIRD associations, and yos surtakhuun brings to mind specifically Mongolian associations. Thus, pointing to different historically shaped cultural models of “moral” behavior.


Moral psychology Morality Yos surtakhuun Cultural models Normative cognition Mongolia 



I would like to thank my Mongolian colleagues and friends Bum-Ochir Dulam, Lhagvademchig Jadamba, and Delgermend Tserendamba for insightful feedback on the results of freelisting study. Also, many thanks to my assistant Anudey for an invaluable help in collecting data in Ulaanbaatar.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Psychology, Faculty of PhilosophyVilnius UniversityVilniusLithuania

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