Cultural Evolution: A Review of Theory, Findings and Controversies

Abstract

The last two decades have seen an explosion in research analysing cultural change as a Darwinian evolutionary process. Here I provide an overview of the theory of cultural evolution, including its intellectual history, major theoretical tenets and methods, key findings, and prominent criticisms and controversies. ‘Culture’ is defined as socially transmitted information. Cultural evolution is the theory that this socially transmitted information evolves in the manner laid out by Darwin in The Origin of Species, i.e. it comprises a system of variation, differential fitness and inheritance. Cultural evolution is not, however, neo-Darwinian, in that many of the details of genetic evolution may not apply, such as particulate inheritance and random mutation. Following a brief history of this idea, I review theoretical and empirical studies of cultural microevolution, which entails both selection-like processes wherein some cultural variants are more likely to be acquired and transmitted than others, plus transformative processes that alter cultural information during transmission. I also review how phylogenetic methods have been used to reconstruct cultural macroevolution, including the evolution of languages, technology and social organisation. Finally, I discuss recent controversies and debates, including the extent to which culture is proximate or ultimate, the relative role of selective and transformative processes in cultural evolution, the basis of cumulative cultural evolution, the evolution of large-scale human cooperation, and whether social learning is learned or innate. I conclude by highlighting the value of using evolutionary methods to study culture for both the social and biological sciences.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Confusingly, the terms ‘social learning’, ‘social transmission’, ‘cultural transmission’, ‘cultural inheritance’ and variants thereof are used interchangeably within the field, to denote the passing of information non-genetically from one individual to another. Here I stick to the term ‘social learning’, although this may differ from cited sources.

  2. 2.

    Some of this latter school (e.g. Claidière et al. 2014) have argued that the existence of these transformative processes requires a major revision of the standard approach to cultural evolution presented in this article; I deal with this critique separately in a later section.

  3. 3.

    Earlier I discussed nineteenth century progressive Spencerian theories of cultural evolution. Currie et al.’s (2010) analysis presents an interesting empirical test of a version of those claims that societies increase in complexity, although it should be noted that (1) Currie et al.’s analysis is an empirical test, whereas Tylor and Morgan offered little empirical support for their progressive schemes; (2) Currie et al. precisely defined ‘complexity’ in terms of political hierarchy, whereas Tylor and Morgan were vague and conflated social organisation, technology and many other traits into a single scheme; and (3) Currie et al. showed that cultural evolution is not inevitably progressive, in that societies often lost social hierarchical levels.

References

  1. Abbot, P., Abe, J., Alcock, J., Alizon, S., Alpedrinha, J. A. C., Andersson, M., et al. (2011). Inclusive fitness theory and eusociality. Nature, 471(7339), E1–E4.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Acerbi, A., Enquist, M., & Ghirlanda, S. (2009). Cultural evolution and individual development of openness and conservatism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(45), 18931–18935.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Acerbi, A., & Mesoudi, A. (in press). If we are all cultural Darwinians what’s the fuss about? Clarifying recent disagreements in the field of cultural evolution. Biology and Philosophy.

  4. Aoki, K., & Feldman, M. W. (2014). Evolution of learning strategies in temporally and spatially variable environments: A review of theory. Theoretical Population Biology, 91, 3–19. doi:10.1016/j.tpb.2013.10.004.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Aplin, L. M., Farine, D. R., Morand-Ferron, J., Cockburn, A., Thornton, A., & Sheldon, B. C. (2014). Experimentally induced innovations lead to persistent culture via conformity in wild birds. Nature,. doi:10.1038/nature13998.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. Atkisson, C., O’Brien, M. J., & Mesoudi, A. (2011). Adult learners in a novel environment use prestige-biased social learning. Evolutionary Psychology, 10(3), 519–537.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Aunger, R. (2000). The life history of culture learning in a face-to-face society. Ethos, 28, 1–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Barbrook, A. C., Howe, C. J., Blake, N., & Robinson, P. (1998). The phylogeny of the canterbury tales. Nature, 394(6696), 839.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bartlett, F. C. (1932). Remembering. Oxford: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Beheim, B. A., Thigpen, C., & McElreath, R. (2014). Strategic social learning and the population dynamics of human behavior: The game of Go. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35(5), 351–357. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.04.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Bell, A. V., Richerson, P. J., & McElreath, R. (2009). Culture rather than genes provides greater scope for the evolution of large-scale human prosociality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(42), 17671–17674.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Bloch, M. (2000). A well-disposed social anthropologist’s problems with memes. In R. Aunger (Ed.), Darwinizing culture (pp. 189–204). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Boas, F. (1940). Race, language and culture. New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Bouckaert, R., Lemey, P., Dunn, M., Greenhill, S. J., Alekseyenko, A. V., Drummond, A. J., et al. (2012). Mapping the origins and expansion of the Indo-European language family. Science, 337(6097), 957–960.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (1985). Culture and the evolutionary process. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (1995). Why does culture increase human adaptability? Ethology and Sociobiology, 16(2), 125–143. doi:10.1016/0162-3095(94)00073-G.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (2009). Culture and the evolution of human cooperation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 364(1533), 3281.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Boyd, R., Richerson, P. J., & Henrich, J. (2011). The cultural niche: Why social learning is essential for human adaptation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 10918–10925.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Boyer, P. (1998). Cognitive tracks of cultural inheritance: How evolved intuitive ontology governs cultural transmission. American Anthropologist, 100(4), 876–889.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Bromham, L., Hua, X., Fitzpatrick, T. G., & Greenhill, S. J. (2015). Rate of language evolution is affected by population size. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(7), 2097–2102. doi:10.1073/pnas.1419704112.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Campbell, D. T. (1965). Variation and selective retention in socio-cultural evolution. In H. R. Barringer, G. I. Blanksten, & R. W. Mack (Eds.), Social change in developing areas (pp. 19–49). Cambridge, MA: Schenkman.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Cavalli-Sforza, L. L., & Feldman, M. W. (1981). Cultural transmission and evolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Chang, W., Cathcart, C., Hall, D., & Garrett, A. (2015). Ancestry-constrained phylogenetic analysis supports the Indo-European steppe hypothesis. Language, 91(1), 194–244. doi:10.1353/lan.2015.0005.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Claidière, N., Scott-Phillips, T. C., & Sperber, D. (2014). How Darwinian is cultural evolution? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369(1642), 20130368. doi:10.1098/rstb.2013.0368.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Claidière, N., & Sperber, D. (2007). The role of attraction in cultural evolution. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 7(2), 89–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Collard, M., Buchanan, Briggs, & O’Brien, M. J. (2013). Population size as an explanation for patterns in the Paleolithic archaeological record: More caution is needed. Current Anthropology, 54(S8), S388–S396. doi:10.1086/673881.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Collard, M., Shennan, S., & Tehrani, J. J. (2006). Branching, blending, and the evolution of cultural similarities and differences among human populations. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27, 169–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Csibra, G., & Gergely, G. (2009). Natural pedagogy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(4), 148–153.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Currie, T. E., Greenhill, S. J., Gray, R. D., Hasegawa, T., & Mace, R. (2010). Rise and fall of political complexity in island South-East Asia and the Pacific. Nature, 467(7317), 801–804. doi:10.1038/nature09461.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Danchin, E., Charmantier, A., Champagne, F. A., Mesoudi, A., Pujol, B., & Blanchet, S. (2011). Beyond DNA: Integrating inclusive inheritance into an extended theory of evolution. Nature Reviews Genetics, 12, 475–486.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Darwin, C. (1871). The descent of man. London: Gibson Square.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Dawson, E. H., Avarguès-Weber, A., Chittka, L., & Leadbeater, E. (2013). Learning by observation emerges from simple associations in an insect model. Current Biology, 23(8), 727–730. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.03.035.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Dean, L. G., Kendal, R. L., Schapiro, S. J., Thierry, B., & Laland, K. N. (2012). Identification of the social and cognitive processes underlying human cumulative culture. Science, 335(6072), 1114–1118.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Dean, L. G., Vale, G. L., Laland, K. N., Flynn, E., & Kendal, R. L. (2014). Human cumulative culture: A comparative perspective. Biological Reviews, 89(2), 284–301.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Derex, M., Beugin, M.-P., Godelle, B., & Raymond, M. (2013). Experimental evidence for the influence of group size on cultural complexity. Nature, 503(7476), 389–391.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Diamond, J., & Bellwood, P. (2003). Farmers and their languages: The first expansions. Science, 300(5619), 597–603.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Dickins, T. E., & Rahman, Q. (2012). The extended evolutionary synthesis and the role of soft inheritance in evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B,. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.0273.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  39. Dunbar, R. I. M. (2003). The social brain. Annual Review of Anthropology, 32, 163–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Dunn, M., Greenhill, S. J., Levinson, S. C., & Gray, R. D. (2011). Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals. Nature, 473(7345), 79–82.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. El Mouden, C., André, J.-B., Morin, O., & Nettle, D. (2014). Cultural transmission and the evolution of human behaviour: A general approach based on the Price equation. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 27(2), 231–241. doi:10.1111/jeb.12296.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Enquist, M., Eriksson, K., & Ghirlanda, S. (2007). Critical social learning: A solution to Rogers’ paradox of nonadaptive culture. American Anthropologist, 109(4), 727–734.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Enquist, M., & Ghirlanda, S. (2007). Evolution of social learning does not explain the origin of human cumulative culture. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 246(1), 129–135. doi:10.1016/j.jtbi.2006.12.022.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Enquist, M., Ghirlanda, S., & Eriksson, K. (2011). Modelling the evolution and diversity of cumulative culture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 366, 412–423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Eriksson, K., & Coultas, J. C. (2014). Corpses, maggots, poodles and rats: Emotional selection operating in three phases of cultural transmission of urban legends. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 14(1–2), 1–26. doi:10.1163/15685373-12342107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Feher, O., Wang, H., Saar, S., Mitra, P. P., & Tchernichovski, O. (2009). De novo establishment of wild-type song culture in the zebra finch. Nature, 459(7246), 564–568.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Feldman, M. W., & Laland, K. N. (1996). Gene-culture coevolutionary theory. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 11(11), 453–457.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Felsenstein, J. (1985). Phylogenies and the comparative method. American Naturalist, 125, 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Fracchia, J., & Lewontin, R. C. (1999). Does culture evolve? History and Theory, 38(4), 52–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Freeman, D. (1974). The evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. Current Anthropology, 15(3), 211–237.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Galef, B. G., & Laland, K. N. (2005). Social learning in animals: Empirical studies and theoretical models. BioScience, 55(6), 489–499.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., & Nakamaru, M. (2006). Cultural evolution develops its own rules: The rise of conservatism and persuasion. Current Anthropology, 47(6), 1027–1034.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Gray, R. D., & Atkinson, Q. D. (2003). Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin. Nature, 426(6965), 435–439.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Gray, R. D., Drummond, A. J., & Greenhill, S. J. (2009). Language phylogenies reveal expansion pulses and pauses in Pacific settlement. Science, 323(5913), 479–483. doi:10.1126/science.1166858.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Gray, R. D., & Jordan, F. M. (2000). Language trees support the express-train sequence of Austronesian expansion. Nature, 405, 1052–1055.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Griffiths, T. L., Kalish, M. L., & Lewandowsky, S. (2008). Theoretical and empirical evidence for the impact of inductive biases on cultural evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 363, 3503–3514.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Harris, J. R. (1995). Where is the child’s environment? A group socialization theory of development. Psychological Review, 102, 458–489.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Harvey, P. H., & Pagel, M. D. (1991). The comparative method in evolutionary biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Heath, C., Bell, C., & Sternberg, E. (2001). Emotional selection in memes: The case of urban legends. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(6), 1028–1041. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.81.6.1028.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Henrich, J. (2001). Cultural transmission and the diffusion of innovations. American Anthropologist, 103(4), 992–1013.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Henrich, J. (2004). Demography and cultural evolution: How adaptive cultural processes can produce maladaptive losses—The Tasmanian case. American Antiquity, 69(2), 197–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Henrich, J., & Boyd, R. (1998). The evolution of conformist transmission and the emergence of between-group differences. Evolution and Human Behavior, 19(4), 215–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Henrich, J., & Boyd, R. (2001). Why people punish defectors: Weak conformist transmission can stabilize costly enforcement of norms in cooperative dilemmas. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 208(1), 79–89.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Henrich, J., & Boyd, R. (2002). On modeling cognition and culture: Why cultural evolution does not require replication of representations. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 2(2), 87–112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Henrich, J., Boyd, R., Bowles, S., Camerer, C., Fehr, E., Gintis, H., et al. (2005). “Economic man” in cross-cultural perspective: Behavioral experiments in 15 small-scale societies. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(06), 795–815. doi:10.1017/S0140525X05000142.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. Henrich, J., & Gil-White, F. J. (2001). The evolution of prestige: Freely conferred deference as a mechanism for enhancing the benefits of cultural transmission. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22(3), 165–196. doi:10.1016/S1090-5138(00)00071-4.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Henrich, J., & Henrich, N. (2010). The evolution of cultural adaptations: Fijian food taboos protect against dangerous marine toxins. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277, 3715–3724.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Henrich, J., & McElreath, R. (2003). The evolution of cultural evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology, 12(3), 123–135. doi:10.1002/evan.10110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Hewlett, B. S., Fouts, H. N., Boyette, A. H., & Hewlett, B. L. (2011). Social learning among Congo Basin hunter-gatherers. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 366(1567), 1168–1178. doi:10.1098/rstb.2010.0373.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Heyes, C. (2012). What’s social about social learning? Journal of Comparative Psychology, 126(2), 193–202. doi:10.1037/a0025180.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Heyes, C., & Pearce, J. M. (2015). Not-so-social learning strategies. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 282(1802), 20141709. doi:10.1098/rspb.2014.1709.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Holden, C. J., & Mace, R. (2003). Spread of cattle led to the loss of matrilineal descent in Africa: A coevolutionary analysis. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 270(1532), 2425–2433.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Horner, V., Whiten, A., Flynn, E., & de Waal, F. B. M. (2006). Faithful replication of foraging techniques along cultural transmission chains by chimpanzees and children. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(37), 13878.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Kandler, A., & Steele, J. (2009). Social learning, economic inequality and innovation diffusion. In M. O’Brien & S. J. Shennan (Eds.), Innovation and evolution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Kashima, Y. (2000). Maintaining cultural stereotypes in the serial reproduction of narratives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(5), 594–604.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Kempe, M., Lycett, S., & Mesoudi, A. (2012). An experimental test of the accumulated copying error model of cultural mutation for Acheulean handaxe size. PLoS One, 7(11), e48333.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Kempe, M., Lycett, S. J., & Mesoudi, A. (2014). From cultural traditions to cumulative culture: Parameterizing the differences between human and nonhuman culture. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 359, 29–36. doi:10.1016/j.jtbi.2014.05.046.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Kempe, M., & Mesoudi, A. (2014). An experimental demonstration of the effect of group size on cultural accumulation. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 285–290.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Kirby, S., Cornish, H., & Smith, K. (2008). Cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory: An experimental approach to the origins of structure in human language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(31), 10681–10686.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Kirby, S., Dowman, M., & Griffiths, T. L. (2007). Innateness and culture in the evolution of language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(12), 5241–5245.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Kline, M. A., & Boyd, R. (2010). Population size predicts technological complexity in Oceania. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277(1693), 2559–2564.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Kobayashi, Y., & Aoki, K. (2012). Innovativeness, population size and cumulative cultural evolution. Theoretical Population Biology, 82(1), 38–47. doi:10.1016/j.tpb.2012.04.001.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic patterns. Oxford: University of Pennsylvania Press.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Laland, K. N. (2004). Social learning strategies. Animal Learning and Behavior, 32(1), 4–14. doi:10.3758/BF03196002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. Laland, K. N., & Galef, B. G. (2009). The question of animal culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  86. Laland, K. N., Odling-Smee, J., & Myles, S. (2010). How culture shaped the human genome: Bringing genetics and the human sciences together. Nature Reviews Genetics, 11(2), 137–148.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  87. Laland, K. N., Sterelny, K., Odling-Smee, J., Hoppitt, W., & Uller, T. (2011). Cause and effect in biology revisited: Is Mayr’s proximate-ultimate dichotomy still useful? Science, 334(6062), 1512–1516.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  88. Lamba, S. (2014). Social learning in cooperative dilemmas. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 281(1787), 20140417. doi:10.1098/rspb.2014.0417.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. Lamba, S., & Mace, R. (2011). Demography and ecology drive variation in cooperation across human populations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(35), 14426–14430.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  90. Leadbeater, E. (2015). What evolves in the evolution of social learning? Journal of Zoology, 295(1), 4–11. doi:10.1111/jzo.12197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  91. Lehmann, L., Aoki, K., & Feldman, M. W. (2011). On the number of independent cultural traits carried by individuals and populations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 366(1563), 424–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  92. Lehmann, L., Feldman, M. W., & Foster, K. R. (2008). Cultural transmission can inhibit the evolution of altruistic helping. The American Naturalist, 172(1), 12–24. doi:10.1086/587851.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  93. Lewis, H. S. (2001). Boas, Darwin, science, and anthropology. Current Anthropology, 42(3), 381–406. doi:10.1086/320474.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  94. Lewis, H. M., & Laland, K. N. (2012). Transmission fidelity is the key to the build-up of cumulative culture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 367, 2171–2180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  95. Lewontin, R. C. (1970). The units of selection. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 1, 1–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  96. Lieberman, E., Michel, J. B., Jackson, J., Tang, T., & Nowak, M. A. (2007). Quantifying the evolutionary dynamics of language. Nature, 449(7163), 713–716.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  97. Lindeyer, C. M., Meaney, M. J., & Reader, S. M. (2013). Early maternal care predicts reliance on social learning about food in adult rats. Developmental Psychobiology, 55(2), 168–175. doi:10.1002/dev.21009.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  98. Lipo, C. P., O’Brien, M. J., Collard, M., & Shennan, S. J. (Eds.). (2006). Mapping our ancestors: Phylogenetic approaches in anthropology and prehistory. New York: Aldine.

    Google Scholar 

  99. Lycett, S. J. (2009). Understanding ancient hominin dispersals using artefactual data: A phylogeographic analysis of Acheulean handaxes. PLoS One, 4(10), 1–6.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  100. Lycett, S. J., Collard, M., & McGrew, W. C. (2007). Phylogenetic analyses of behavior support existence of culture among wild chimpanzees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(45), 17588.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  101. Lycett, S. J., & von Cramon-Taubadel, N. (2008). Acheulean variability and hominin dispersals: A model-bound approach. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35(3), 553–562.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  102. Lyons, D. E., Young, A. G., & Keil, F. C. (2007). The hidden structure of overimitation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(50), 19751–19756.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  103. Mace, R., & Pagel, M. D. (1994). The comparative method in anthropology. Current Anthropology, 35(5), 549–564.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  104. Marshall-Pescini, S., & Whiten, A. (2008). Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and the question of cumulative culture: An experimental approach. Animal Cognition, 11(3), 449–456.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  105. Martin, D., Hutchison, J., Slessor, G., Urquhart, J., Cunningham, S. J., & Smith, K. (2014). The spontaneous formation of stereotypes via cumulative cultural evolution. Psychological Science, 25(9), 1777–1786. doi:10.1177/0956797614541129.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  106. Matthews, L. J., Tehrani, J. J., Jordan, F. M., Collard, M., & Nunn, C. L. (2011). Testing for divergent transmission histories among cultural characters: A study using Bayesian phylogenetic methods and Iranian tribal textile data. PLoS One, 6(4), e14810. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014810.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  107. Mayr, E. (1961). Cause and effect in biology: Kinds of causes, predictability, and teleology are viewed by a practicing biologist. Science, 134(3489), 1501–1506. doi:10.1126/science.134.3489.1501.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  108. Mayr, E. (1982). The growth of biological thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  109. McElreath, R., Bell, A. V., Efferson, C., Lubell, M., Richerson, P. J., & Waring, T. (2008). Beyond existence and aiming outside the laboratory: Estimating frequency-dependent and pay-off-biased social learning strategies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 363(1509), 3515–3528. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  110. McElreath, R., & Henrich, J. (2006). Modeling cultural evolution. In R. I. M. Dunbar & L. Barrett (Eds.), Oxford handbook of evolutionary psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  111. McGuigan, N., & Cubillo, M. (2013). Cultural transmission in young children: When social information is more important than non-social information. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 174(6), 605–619.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  112. McMahon, A., & McMahon, R. (2003). Finding families: Quantitative methods in language classification. Transactions of the Philological Society, 101, 7–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  113. Mesoudi, A. (2011a). Cultural evolution. Chicago, IL: University Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  114. Mesoudi, A. (2011b). An experimental comparison of human social learning strategies: Payoff-biased social learning is adaptive but underused. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32(5), 334–342. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2010.12.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  115. Mesoudi, A. (2011c). Variable cultural acquisition costs constrain cumulative cultural evolution. PLoS One, 6(3), e18239.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  116. Mesoudi, A., Blanchet, S., Charmantier, A., Danchin, E., Fogarty, L., Jablonka, E., et al. (2013). Is non-genetic inheritance just a proximate mechanism? A corroboration of the extended evolutionary synthesis. Biological Theory, 7(3), 189–195.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  117. Mesoudi, A., Chang, L., Murray, K., & Lu, H. (2015). Higher frequency of social learning in China than in the West shows cultural variation in the dynamics of cultural evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 282, 20142209.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  118. Mesoudi, A., & Whiten, A. (2004). The hierarchical transformation of event knowledge in human cultural transmission. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 4(1), 1–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  119. Mesoudi, A., & Whiten, A. (2008). The multiple roles of cultural transmission experiments in understanding human cultural evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 363, 3489–3501.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  120. Mesoudi, A., Whiten, A., & Dunbar, R. (2006). A bias for social information in human cultural transmission. British Journal of Psychology, 97(3), 405–423. doi:10.1348/000712605X85871.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  121. Mesoudi, A., Whiten, A., & Laland, K. N. (2004). Is human cultural evolution Darwinian? Evidence reviewed from the perspective of The Origin of Species. Evolution, 58(1), 1–11. Accessed 27 May 2014.

  122. Molleman, L., van den Berg, P., & Weissing, F. J. (2014). Consistent individual differences in human social learning strategies. Nature Communications,. doi:10.1038/ncomms4570.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  123. Moore, J. H. (1994). Putting anthropology back together again: The ethnogenetic critique of cladistic theory. American Anthropologist, 96, 925–948.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  124. Morgan, L. H. (1877). Ancient society. New York: Henry Holt.

    Google Scholar 

  125. Morgan, T. J. H., Rendell, L. E., Ehn, M., Hoppitt, W., & Laland, K. N. (2011). The evolutionary basis of human social learning. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279, 653–662. doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.1172.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  126. Muthukrishna, M., Shulman, B. W., Vasilescu, V., & Henrich, J. (2014). Sociality influences cultural complexity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1774), 20132511.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  127. Nowak, M. A., Tarnita, C. E., & Wilson, E. O. (2010). The evolution of eusociality. Nature, 466(7310), 1057–1062.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  128. O’Brien, M. J., Boulanger, M. T., Buchanan, B., Collard, M., Lee Lyman, R., & Darwent, J. (2014). Innovation and cultural transmission in the American Paleolithic: Phylogenetic analysis of eastern Paleoindian projectile-point classes. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 34, 100–119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  129. O’Brien, M. J., Darwent, J., & Lyman, R. L. (2001). Cladistics is useful for reconstructing archaeological phylogenies: Palaeoindian points from the Southeastern United States. Journal of Archaeological Science, 28(10), 1115–1136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  130. O’Brien, M. J., & Lyman, R. L. (2003). Cladistics and archaeology. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

    Google Scholar 

  131. Pagel, M. (2009). Human language as a culturally transmitted replicator. Nature Reviews Genetics, 10(6), 405–415.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  132. Pike, T. W., Kendal, J. R., Rendell, L. E., & Laland, K. N. (2010). Learning by proportional observation in a species of fish. Behavioral Ecology, 21(3), 570–575. doi:10.1093/beheco/arq025.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  133. Pike, T. W., & Laland, K. N. (2010). Conformist learning in nine-spined sticklebacks’ foraging decisions. Biology Letters,. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.1014.

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  134. Pitt-Rivers, A. L. (1875). On the evolution of culture. Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 4, 293–308.

    Google Scholar 

  135. Powell, A., Shennan, S. J., & Thomas, M. G. (2009). Late Pleistocene demography and the appearance of modern human behavior. Science, 324(5932), 1298–1301.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  136. Price, G. R. (1970). Selection and covariance. Nature, 227(5257), 520–521.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  137. Reyes-Garcia, V., Broesch, J., Calvet-Mir, L., Fuentes-Pel·ez, N., McDade, T. W., Parsa, S., et al. (2009). Cultural transmission of ethnobotanical knowledge and skills: An empirical analysis from an Amerindian society. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(4), 274–285.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  138. Reysen, M. B., Talbert, N. G., Dominko, M., Jones, A. N., & Kelley, M. R. (2011). The effects of collaboration on recall of social information. British Journal of Psychology, 102(3), 646–661. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02035.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  139. Richerson, P. J., Baldini, R., Bell, A., Demps, K., Frost, K., Hillis, V., et al. (2015). Cultural group selection plays an essential role in explaining human cooperation: A sketch of the evidence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences,. doi:10.1017/S0140525X1400106X.

    Google Scholar 

  140. Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (1987). Simple models of complex phenomena: The case of cultural evolution. In J. Dupre (Ed.), The latest on the best: Essays on evolution and optimality (pp. 27–52). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  141. Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (2005). Not by genes alone. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  142. Richerson, P. J., & Christiansen, M. H. (2013). Cultural evolution: Society, technology, language, and religion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  143. Rogers, A. R. (1988). Does biology constrain culture? American Anthropologist, 90(4), 819–831.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  144. Rogers, E. (1995). The diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  145. Ross, R. M., Greenhill, S. J., & Atkinson, Q. D. (2013). Population structure and cultural geography of a folktale in Europe. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 280(1756), 20123065. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.3065.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  146. Ryan, B., & Gross, N. (1943). The diffusion of hybrid seed corn in two Iowa communities. Rural Sociology, 8, 15–24.

    Google Scholar 

  147. Schlag, K. H. (1998). Why imitate, and if so, how? A boundedly rational approach to multi-armed bandits. Journal of Economic Theory, 78(1), 130–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  148. Scott-Phillips, T. C., Dickins, T. E., & West, S. A. (2011). Evolutionary theory and the ultimate–proximate distinction in the human behavioral sciences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 38–47.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  149. Servedio, M. R., Brandvain, Y., Dhole, S., Fitzpatrick, C. L., Goldberg, E. E., Stern, C. A., et al. (2014). Not just a theory—The utility of mathematical models in evolutionary biology. PLoS Biology, 12(12), e1002017. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002017.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  150. Shennan, S. J. (2001). Demography and cultural innovation: A model and its implications for the emergence of modern human culture. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 11(01), 5–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  151. Shennan, S. J. (2002). Genes, memes and human history. London: Thames and Hudson.

    Google Scholar 

  152. Sperber, D. (1996). Explaining culture: A naturalistic approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  153. Sperber, D., & Hirschfeld, L. A. (2004). The cognitive foundations of cultural stability and diversity. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8(1), 40–46. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2003.11.002.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  154. Stubbersfield, J. M., Tehrani, J. J., & Flynn, E. G. (2014). Serial killers, spiders and cybersex: Social and survival information bias in the transmission of urban legends. British Journal of Psychology,. doi:10.1111/bjop.12073.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  155. Syvanen, M. (2012). Evolutionary implications of horizontal gene transfer. Annual Review of Genetics, 46(1), 341–358. doi:10.1146/annurev-genet-110711-155529.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  156. Tehrani, J. J. (2013). The phylogeny of little red riding hood. PLoS One, 8(11), e78871. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078871.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  157. Tehrani, J. J., & Collard, M. (2002). Investigating cultural evolution through biological phylogenetic analyses of Turkmen textiles. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 21, 443–463.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  158. Tinbergen, N. (1963). On aims and methods of ethology. Zeitschrift fuer Tierpsychologie, 20, 410–433.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  159. Tomasello, M. (1999). The cultural origins of human cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  160. Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behne, T., & Moll, H. (2005). Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(5), 675–691.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  161. Tomasello, M., Kruger, A. C., & Ratner, H. H. (1993). Cultural learning. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16(3), 495–552.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  162. Turchin, P. (2008). Arise “cliodynamics”. Nature, 454, 34–35.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  163. Turchin, P., Currie, T. E., Turner, E. A. L., & Gavrilets, S. (2013). War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(41), 16384–16389. doi:10.1073/pnas.1308825110.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  164. Tylor, E. B. (1871). Primitive culture. London: John Murray.

    Google Scholar 

  165. Vaesen, K. (2012). Cumulative cultural evolution and demography. PLoS One, 7(7), e40989. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040989.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  166. Van Leeuwen, E. J. C., & Haun, D. (2013). Conformity in nonhuman primates: Fad or fact? Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(1), 1–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  167. Van Wyhe, J. (2005). The descent of words: Evolutionary thinking 1780–1880. Endeavour, 29(3), 94–100.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  168. West, S. A., El Mouden, C., & Gardner, A. (2011). Sixteen common misconceptions about the evolution of cooperation in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32, 231–262. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2010.08.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  169. West, S. A., Griffin, A. S., & Gardner, A. (2007). Social semantics: Altruism, cooperation, mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 20(2), 415–432.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  170. Whiten, A. (2005). The second inheritance system of chimpanzees and humans. Nature, 437, 52–55.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  171. Whiten, A., Goodall, J., McGrew, W. C., Nishida, T., Reynolds, V., Sugiyama, Y., et al. (1999). Cultures in chimpanzees. Nature, 399(6737), 682–685.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  172. Whiten, A., Horner, V., & de Waal, F. B. M. (2005). Conformity to cultural norms of tool use in chimpanzees. Nature, 437, 737–740.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  173. Whiten, A., & Mesoudi, A. (2008). An experimental science of culture: Animal social diffusion experiments. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 363, 3477–3488.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  174. Wilson, D. S., & Wilson, E. O. (2007). Rethinking the theoretical foundation of sociobiology. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 82(4), 327–348. doi:10.1086/522809.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  175. Xu, J., Dowman, M., & Griffiths, T. L. (2013). Cultural transmission results in convergence towards colour term universals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1758). doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.3073.

  176. Yamamoto, S., Humle, T., & Tanaka, M. (2013). Basis for cumulative cultural evolution in chimpanzees: Social learning of a more efficient tool-use technique. PLoS One, 8(1), e55768.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alex Mesoudi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mesoudi, A. Cultural Evolution: A Review of Theory, Findings and Controversies. Evol Biol 43, 481–497 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11692-015-9320-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Cultural evolution
  • Cultural transmission
  • Cumulative culture
  • Demography
  • Human evolution
  • Social learning