Background

Humans are unique in having a set of genetically based mental abilities that make complex culture possible. In comparison with other species this capacity permits novel solutions to problems and, using goal directed learning, these solutions can be transmitted between individuals and spread through societies.

These mental abilities have given rise to a dramatic cultural change in the history of the human species. The change has been rapid, from an evolutionary perspective, as it has only taken some two hundred thousand years. In human prehistory we see new innovations and they replace each other at an ever increasing rate, a rate so high that genetic changes cannot solely explain this change. The process through which human lives and behaviour has changed is called cultural evolution, and comes about through the interplay between innovation and social transmission of knowledge.

The traditional division of academic disciplines is not always helpful in augmenting our understanding of how culture evolves. This is in part due to the traditional division between the humanities and natural sciences, and in part due to the subdivision of disciplines within both the humanities and natural sciences. This needs to change and a new arena for research is created – a centre – that studies cultural evolution in its broadest sense.

Research areas

The Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution focuses on humans as inventors of culture and studies the basis for the capacity to create and maintain culture, when and how it evolved, what specific mechanisms can explain the process of cumulative cultural change that has taken place, how do different cultural processes affect each other, and what results are possible as culture changes over time. These, and related questions are studied based on the broadest perspectives using a combination of theoretical and empirical projects.

Within the next years our research is focused on the following questions:

  • Theory of the evolution of cultural systems
  • Theory of cumulative culture
  • Cultural evolution of languages
  • Cultural evolution of laws, moral codes and self-reflection
  • Cultural evolution of food – cooking methods and ingredients
  • Sexual imprinting and cultural evolution
  • Cultural evolution of religious groups and sects
  • Theory of group dynamics and ethnicity

"Cultaptation"

Through 2007 to 2009 the Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution coordinated the EU-project ”Cultaptation”. This research projected consisted of researchers from Stockholm University, Mälardalen University, University of St. Andrews, UK, and Università di Bologna, Italien.