Chapter 3: Cultural Evolution
Manners vary across cultures. They are cultural learning and not universal.
We’ve become “civilized” as that aristocracy “trickled down”
“Spitting Culture” p60
Sometimes manners change because what is healthy changes. Spitting was once considered
Sometimes manners change arbitrarily.
BOTTOM LINE: CUTURES CHANGE
Where does Cultural Variation come from?
No single answer
Ecological and Geographical variation
Types of food available affects foraging traditions (Hawaii VS Hunting Tribe) P63
Harsh conditions will likely make us place values on masculinity and toughness. Sex roles affected.
(Truk VS Tahitii) P63
Small Differences can have a large effect
Consider the Spaniard conquest of Incas. They were hugely outnumberd and still won. Why?
Proximal Causes (Immediately relevant)
Horses, swords, political organization etc.
Distal Causes (Initial, long term, usually indirect factors) Spaniards had access to particularly great domestication animals and plants (Wheat, pigs etc.)
Allowed them to sit down, eat food, and develop.
Denser population = greater spread of ideas
Living with animals + dense population = diseases that Spaniards grew resistant to, but Incas did
Transmitted VS Evoked Culture
Two ways that geography can affect culture
Notion that people, regardless of where they are from, have certain biologically encoded behavioral
repertoires that are accessible to them, and repertoires are engaged when (situationally or
Eg: Acting intimidating to protect young.
The more parasites present in the culture, the more physical attractiveness was valued (P67)
We all have the potential to value physical attractiveness, but it is more strongly emphasized in
Culture adopted by learning from others.
Unlike evoked culture, can TRAVEL WITH PEOPLE AS THEY MOVE TO DIFFERENT
ENVIRONMENTS (Doesn’t have to be geographically linked)
When is it evoked and when is it transmitted?
Not a clearcut line.
Maybe started because evoked, but then after that it was learned from others.
Ecology has limits
Two tribes have very different cultures despite living in the same ecology.
STUDY: Compared different cultures of similar ecology. SHOULD be very similar. But weren’t. P 70
Moral: Transmitted culture is largely independent of ecology. THOUGHT EXPERIMENT/HISTORY: Polar expedition P 7071
If evoked culture was enough, the harsh conditions would have evoked the same responses. But
they didn’t. Need transmitted culture.
Another explorer survived by seeking out the local tribe and relying on their cumulative culture to
Must examine both evoked and transmitted culture.
How do ideas catch on?
Crazy stories following Hurricane Katrina were all fake. How did this happen?
Lack of information ▯ Facts become valuable + Strong emotions = powerful rumors.
Two models for understanding how ideas spread…
Similar to replicating Genes
Similar to diseases spreading.
But before we get into that we must first understand…
Parallels Between Biological and Cultural Evolution
Occurs with three conditions
Variability between species
Certain traits are associated with better survival
Traits are hereditary
Similar to natural selection, only relies on reproductive success and not survival. “The fecundity of
Think of the peacock and everything entailed (health etc) Both can be applied to Cultural Evolution
Note: Culturan evolution can happen waaayyy faster than regular evolution.
Ideas as Replicators
Genes involve replicators that make copies of themselves. To do this they need…
Longevity: To be stable and longlasting
Fidelity: Must replicate genes as accurately as possible.
Fecundity: Genes must replicate often.
Definition: A “cultural” equivalent to genes. The smallest units of cultural information that can be
Eg: Tunes, catchphrases, ways of making hammers, manners, iPods.
Genes VS Memes
Same in that…
Longevity: An idea that exists for only a moment in your head is unlikely to be transmitted.
Fecundity: Memes that went viral and replicated are transmitted many times over.
Fidelity (??? See below): More an “ideal” but it’s best if the idea is copied more or less
accurately each time.
Different in that…
The basis of variability
Random mutations are the source of variation in genes, allowing species to evolve, but cultural
evolution is nonrandom, planned innovations.
Fidelity is low. Transmission is like playing a game of Telephone.
But the “gist” is often still maintained. Usually enough. Who needs Fidelity?
Meme is hard to define. What exactly constitutes a meme? A tune? Half a tune? One bar? Memes do not have the be adaptive to become common. Sometimes they are even
MALADAPTIVE (e.g Sacrifice or something)
Even if as many at 50% of a population dies from following cultural ideas, the ideas can STILL
Epidemiology of Ideas
Epidemiology refers to the spread of disease.
The Epidemiology of Ideas considers the distribution of ideas in a particular population and
explores the features of ideas that facilitate or inhibit the likelihood that an idea will be passed on.
The following steps occur for an idea to be passed one.
1. The inventer has a mental representation of an idea in his/her mind.
2. The imitator, who learns about this idea from the first person, then creates the mental
representation in his/her own head.
The idea is not transmitted directly. The imitator receives the gist, and then forms the idea anew.
The new idea is slightly different as it is subjected to the imitators idiosyncrasies or biases.
According to this view, cultural evolution is very distinct from biological evolution.
THERE IS NO SENSUS AS TO WHICH APPROACH IS BEST
Factors that cause ideas to spread
Communicable Ideas Spread
Ideas need a way to be transferred. Makes sense.
Some ideas are difficult to express
Some ideas are socially undesirable
Studying stereotypes is a good way to study culturual ideas and the Irish show that stereotypes
often arise from circumstances. The content of stereotypes seems to reveal what ideas are likely to be communicated.
If an idea is not likely to be communicated, it’s not likely to become a stereotype.
STUDY: Stereotypes P 80
People are most likely to form stereotypes based on the kinds of traits people are most likely to
communicate. (Even when describing others)
Dynamic Social Impact Theory
Definition: Individuals come to influence