Cultural evolution is not a label for a particular theory but a unifying field for interdisciplinary research on cultural emergence and change. Human culture is continuously changing, displays a stunning diversity and is present in most aspects of human life. The term ‘culture’ refers to its broadest meaning, including all phenomena that to some extent depend on social transmission, such as language, religion, laws, politics, technology, or art. Some central questions are:

Cultural transmission
Cultural transmission. Photo: Cienpies Design
  • How does the social environment influence the individual? How is new culture generated? Are some cultural traits more likely to spread than others?
  • Are there long-term patterns in cultural evolution? Are cultural phenomena generally short-lived or are there sometimes strong historical dependencies? Why do we observe so much diversity in time and space?
  • Do genetic factors influence cultural evolution? If yes, how and how important is this?

Cultural change is a broad topic, taught and researched in many disciplines. Typically, separate disciplines focus on particular domains, time periods, methods or explanations. A consequence of this is scientific fragmentation, making it difficult to connect all the existing knowledge. The emerging field of cultural evolution introduces broad interdisciplinary thinking and makes use of expertise from different fields to make progress in the general understanding of human culture.