Cultural Evolution and Human Reproductive Behavior

  • Lesley Newson
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR, volume 37)


There is much that is “typically ape” about the way humans go about living their lives and building their babies (e.g., Chapais 2008; Smith and Tompkins 1995). Among mammals, apes and humans are characterized by low lifetime fertility, a slow pace of reproduction, and a large investment in each offspring. Many of the differences between apes and humans can be considered differences of degree and not kind. For example, like other apes, humans have a large brain in comparison to our body size. The human brain is extreme, however, being about three times the size of the chimpanzee brain. Since brain tissue is “expensive” to maintain and build (Aiello and Wheeler 1995; Isler and Van Schaik 2009a), humans have an even bigger problem providing our developing babies with sufficient nutrition. Much of what is not typically ape about humans is a consequence of the fact that human populations share a complex culture. In this chapter, I will describe the role of culture in human reproduction and suggest how the motivations and abilities that maintain culture could have coevolved with human life history and parenting behavior.


Cultural evolution Reproductive behavior Homo Social learning Family identity Parenting 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science and PolicyUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA

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