Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cultural Evolution Continues Throughout Life, Mathematical Models Suggest

Date:
August 14, 2009
Source:
Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council)
Summary:
By successively acquiring culture in the form of values, ideas, and actions throughout their lives, humans influence future learning and the capacity for cultural evolution. The number of learning opportunities a person is exposed to is of great importance to that individual’s cultural evolution during his/her lifetime, according to researchers in Sweden. With the aid of mathematical models, these scientists show that there are differences between cultural and biological evolution.

By successively acquiring culture in the form of values, ideas, and actions throughout their lives, humans influence future learning and the capacity for cultural evolution. The number of learning opportunities a person is exposed to is of great importance to that individual’s cultural evolution during his/her lifetime, according to researchers at Stockholm University.

With the aid of mathematical models, these scientists show that there are differences between cultural and biological evolution. These findings were recently published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“Since there are many similarities between biological evolution and cultural changes, the research community has often suggested that the theory of biological evolution can also be applied in relatively unaltered form as a model for cultural evolution. Using these methods, genes are replaced by so-called memes, which are small cultural elements, and then the same methods are used as in biological evolutionary theory,” says Magnus Enquist, professor and director of the Center for the Study of Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University.

The current article uses mathematical models to show that there is a crucial and often neglected difference between biological and cultural evolution.

“In connection with fertilization, all genes are transferred to the new individual at one and the same time. In contrast, the individual acquires culture successively and throughout life, which can lead to dramatic consequences and create widely divergent conditions for various individuals in a way that biological evolution does not,” says Magnus Enquist.

With many learning opportunities, the individual’s opportunities to actively choose among different cultural variants are of great importance to his/her development. Earlier choices form a foundation for choices to come, and clear differences can be discerned between the cultural evolution of different individuals that can be tied to how often they are exposed to cultural influences.

The factor that is of the greatest importance in the development of theory is the so-called frequency of exposure, which shows that the fewer occasions for exposure an individual encounters, the weaker that individual’s evolution is. In such cases the capacity for dissemination is what determines evolution, in the same was as with biological evolution.

“One finding that surprised us was that who the individual inherited the culture from did not have any direct impact on the results. In other words, it made no difference whether the culture was passed on by the parents, from peers, or from the collective. The very fact that the cultural heritage is not tied to the parents, which has been regarded as the most important difference between biological and cultural evolution, also strengthens our theory.”

Another important conclusion in the article is that there is no simple principle that can predict all cultural evolution in the same way that biological fitness predicts biological evolution. However, a simple variable was able to predict the prevailing cultural variant when the number of learning opportunities was great.

“Hopes of being able to create a theory of cultural evolution or change have often been dashed. With the ideas presented in the article, which are less tied to biological evolutionary thinking and allow cultural evolution to have its own peculiar characteristics, we have a greater chance to succeed in fashioning such a theory,” says Magnus Enquist.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Pontus Strimling, Magnus Enquist, and Kimmo Eriksson. Repeated learning makes cultural evolution unique. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0903180106

Cite This Page:

Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council). "Cultural Evolution Continues Throughout Life, Mathematical Models Suggest." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090811143958.htm>.
Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council). (2009, August 14). Cultural Evolution Continues Throughout Life, Mathematical Models Suggest. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090811143958.htm
Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council). "Cultural Evolution Continues Throughout Life, Mathematical Models Suggest." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090811143958.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) — Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

AFP (July 30, 2014) — Pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the worsening Ebola health crisis, which has so far caused 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Duration: 00:43 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

AP (July 30, 2014) — At least 20 New Jersey residents have tested positive for chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has spread through the Caribbean. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo

Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo

AP (July 30, 2014) — River otters were hitting the water slides to beat the summer heatwave on Wednesday at Ichikawa City's Zoological and Botanical Garden. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:  

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile iPhone Android Web
      Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins