Gene–Culture coevolution in the cognitive domain

Arnon Lotem, Oren Kolodny, Michal Arbilly

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Gene–culture coevolution in the cognitive domain is expected to occur whenever cultural phenomena select for genes that affect cognition. Such cultural selection would occur, for example, if the culture of making certain tools leads to selection that favours genetic variants that somehow make one better at learning to make these tools. While these coevolutionary processes seem probable and important, they are difficult to study because the genetic underpinnings of cognitive traits are often poorly understood. Indeed, most evidence for cognitive gene–culture coevolution are circumstantial or indirect, and the role of such processes is often a topic of debate. This chapter suggests, however, that a strong case for cognitive gene–culture coevolution can be made based on theoretical considerations, which can also guide future work and put current evidence in context. Using a process-based (mechanistic) approach to cognitive evolution, the authors distinguish between culturally selected genetic changes in innate knowledge, culturally selected genetic changes in attentional and learning mechanisms, and culturally selected genetic changes in the neuroanatomical substrate. In this light, the authors suggest a limited role to hypothesized culturally selected modules requiring complex innate knowledge. On the other hand, culturally selected modifications of attentional and learning parameters may be significant because they can jointly handle the computational challenges involved in the construction of complex cognitive representations. In turn, the development of such representations (in the form of associative networks), sets the demand for culturally selected changes in size and structure of neuroanatomical substrate, for which some evidence is accumulating.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Cultural Evolution
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191905780
ISBN (Print)9780198869252
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Publication series

NameOxford Handbooks
PublisherOxford University Press


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