Human Artistic Behaviour: Adaptation, Byproduct, or Cultural Group Selection?

  • Johan De Smedt
  • Helen De Cruz
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 282)


Evolutionary accounts of art fall naturally into two categories: those that propose that art is an adaptation, and those that propose it is a byproduct of adaptations which evolved for different purposes. Although each of these positions can be supported by a wide range of empirical evidence, we will argue that there are shortcomings in each type of explanation. We will propose the alternative that the earliest art arose as a product of cultural group selection, drawing on theoretical models of altruism, anthropological observations of the use of art in extant small-scale societies and archaeological findings from Upper Palaeolithic Europe, in particular the Magdalenian cultural complex.


Archaeological Record Altruistic Behaviour Cultural Group Selection Shell Bead Body Decoration 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank Katie Plaisance, Thomas Reydon, an anonymous reviewer and members of the Human Evolution and Behavior Network (HEBEN) for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. This research was funded by grant 3H070815 from the Research Foundation Flanders and grant COM07/PWM/001 from Ghent University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and EthicsGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Centre for Logic and Analytical PhilosophyKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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