Modelling cultural evolution

Richard McElreath and Joseph Henrich

in Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780198568308
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Modelling cultural evolution

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The key to explaining long-run change in nature, to explaining the origin of new species, of whole new types of organisms, and of life itself is to apply Charles Lyell's principle of uniformitarianism to populations. By keeping track of how the small events of everyday life change the composition of populations, one can explain great events over long time scales. Population models allow for an explanation and real causation at both levels (and more than two levels) to exist seamlessly and meaningfully in one theory. One can build models about how individuals can create population-level effects which then change individuals in powerful ways. Cultural evolutionary models are much the same as better-known genetic ones: events in the lives of individuals interact at the scale of populations to produce feedback and powerful long-term effects on behaviour. This article suggests that there are three basic steps to attaining this.

Keywords: nature; species; organisms; life; Charles Lyell; uniformitarianism; populations; causation; evolutionary models; behaviour

Article.  9731 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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