" Cultural Evolution
is information capable of affecting individuals’ behaviour that they acquire
from other members of their species through teaching, imitation and other forms
of social transmission’ (Richerson and Boyd 2005, 5).
Just as biological
evolution is characterised by changing frequencies of genes in populations through
time so cultural evolution refers to the changing distributions of cultural
attributes in populations. Social transmission is the inheritance mechanism in
the case of culture and culture evolves through a process of descent with
modification, affected by forces such as natural selection operating on its
bearers and by a variety of other forces that have no analogue in genetic
evolution. The study of cultural evolution involves characterising those forces
and modelling their consequences.
It is increasingly recognised that cultural evolution can influence gene distributions in populations, as in the well-known case of the selective effect of dairying on the incidence of adult lactose tolerance.