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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cultural evolution: integrating psychology, evolution and culture

Alex Mesoudi
Current Opinion in Psychology 2016, 7:17–22


Cultural evolution represents a body of theory and findings premised on the notions that, (i), human cultural change constitutes a Darwinian evolutionary process that shares key characteristics with (but is not identical in details to) genetic evolution; (ii), this second evolutionary process has been instrumental in our species’ dramatic ecological success by allowing the rapid, open-ended generation and accumulation of technology, social institutions, knowledge systems and behavioural practices far beyond the complexity of other species’ socially learned behaviour; and (iii), our psychology permits, and has been shaped by, this cultural evolutionary process, for example, through socio-cognitive mechanisms such as imitation, teaching and intentionality that support high-fidelity social learning, and biases governing from whom and what we learn.


  • Humans have colonised and transformed every terrestrial environment on the planet.
  • This ecological success can be attributed to our capacity for cultural evolution.
  • High fidelity social learning allows the preservation/accumulation of cultural traits.
  • Learning biases govern who people learn from and what they learn.
  • These biases scale up to explain larger patterns of cultural diversity and stability.