Human Nature

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 119–137

Five Misunderstandings About Cultural Evolution


DOI: 10.1007/s12110-008-9037-1

Cite this article as:
Henrich, J., Boyd, R. & Richerson, P.J. Hum Nat (2008) 19: 119. doi:10.1007/s12110-008-9037-1


Recent debates about memetics have revealed some widespread misunderstandings about Darwinian approaches to cultural evolution. Drawing from these debates, this paper disputes five common claims: (1) mental representations are rarely discrete, and therefore models that assume discrete, gene-like particles (i.e., replicators) are useless; (2) replicators are necessary for cumulative, adaptive evolution; (3) content-dependent psychological biases are the only important processes that affect the spread of cultural representations; (4) the “cultural fitness” of a mental representation can be inferred from its successful transmission; and (5) selective forces only matter if the sources of variation are random. We close by sketching the outlines of a unified evolutionary science of culture.


Dual inheritance theory Memes Cultural evolution Epidemiology of representations Cultural transmission Replicators 

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Henrich
    • 1
  • Robert Boyd
    • 2
  • Peter J. Richerson
    • 3
  1. 1.Departments of Psychology and EconomicsUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of California-Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Environmental Science and PolicyUniversity of California-DavisDavisUSA

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