Experimental approaches to studying cumulative cultural evolution

Christine A. Caldwell*, Mark Atkinson, Elizabeth Renner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


In humans, cultural traditions often change in ways that increase efficiency and functionality. This process, widely referred to as cumulative cultural evolution, sees beneficial traits preferentially retained, and it is so pervasive that we may be inclined to take it for granted. However, directional change of this kind appears to distinguish human cultural traditions from behavioral traditions that have been documented in other animals. Cumulative culture is therefore attracting an increasing amount of attention within psychology, and researchers have begun to develop methods of studying this phenomenon under controlled conditions. These studies have now addressed a number of different questions, including which learning mechanisms may be implicated and how the resulting behaviors may be influenced by factors such as population structure. The current article provides a synopsis of some of these studies and highlights some of the unresolved issues in this field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-195
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Cumulative culture
  • Cultural evolution
  • Imitation
  • Microsocieties
  • Ratchet effect


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