Evolutionary theory can explain many aspects of culture, including the development of different language systems, social structures, and customs. Cultures can also be the result of social learning. Adaptive behavior resulting from social learning can drive adaptation. One example is the development of lactose intolerance in humans. The use of dairy in our diets caused this genetically-controlled adaptation. In other words, culture has caused people to have lactose intolerance.
Some studies show that cultural variation can arise from shared bodies of information, preferences, and emotional or inferential biases. Others suggest that cultural variants may be rooted in evolved cognitive dispositions that are shared by all. For example, Sperber and colleagues have pointed to evidence from evolutionary psychology that local attractors can correspond to narrowly shared cognitive dispositions shared within a small group of people. These local attractors can explain the emergence of cultural variants in narrow contexts.
The theory of cultural evolution has many similarities to evolutionary psychology. It is often characterized by selection as requiring entities to reproduce, a similar concept to gene evolution. Memes play an important role in cultural evolution and have an affinity with the psychological framework of evolutionary psychology. If the theory is true, cultural evolution has a lot to teach us about human behavior. In addition to explaining why we behave the way we do, cultural evolution can also explain the evolution of social structures in hives.
Although cultural evolution is often overlooked by evolutionary biologists, it is important to recognize that culture is a very powerful tool for adaptation. Culture allows humans to cope better with environmental changes and to overcome challenges faster than genes alone. This is the case for a large variety of cultures. The diversity of human culture in various societies shows that culture plays an important role in the evolution of humans. And in the long run, it is much better at meeting our needs than genes alone.
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