Biological Theory

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 241–250 | Cite as

Cultural Niche Construction and Human Learning Environments: Investigating Sociocultural Perspectives

  • Jeremy R. Kendal
Thematic Issue Article: Cultural Niche Construction


Niche construction theory (NCT) can be applied to examine the influence of culturally constructed learning environments on the acquisition and retention of beliefs, values, role expectations, and skills. Thus, NCT provides a quantitative framework to account for cultural-historical contingency affecting development and cultural evolution. Learning in a culturally constructed environment is of central concern to many sociologists, cognitive scientists, and sociocultural anthropologists, albeit often from different perspectives. This article summarizes four pertinent theories from these fields—situated learning, activity theory, practice theory, and distributed cognition. As a basis for interdisciplinary investigation, the article considers how these theories may be addressed using a cultural niche-construction framework, including the utility of an embedded model that explicitly accounts for effects of the constructed learning environment on within-individual learning dynamics in an evolutionary framework.


Activity theory Distributed cognition Niche construction Practice theory Situated learning Cultural evolution 



I am grateful for discussions and feedback on early drafts from Mike O’Brien, Matei Candea, Michael Carrithers, Emma Flynn, Rachel Kendal, Kevin Laland, Robert Layton, and Jamie Tehrani. Also, I thank Mike O’Brien, Kevin Laland, and the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research for running the Cultural Niche Construction Workshop in 2011. JK was funded by an RCUK academic fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognitive Research 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture, Department of AnthropologyDurham UniversityDurhamUK

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