Some Theoretical Aspects of the Origin of Cultural Transmission

  • Kenichi Aoki


Cultural transmission can be roughly defined as the transfer of information between individuals by social learning. Despite its manifest importance in the determination of various aspects of human behavior, the question of its origin(s) has not received due attention. Previous theoretical studies, notably by Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman, have indicated that there may be serious obstacles to the evolution of a genetically determined capacity for cultural transmission. This paper reviews some new theoretical results that extend their work and notes the conditions that may favor the occurrence of cultural transmission. Basically, our claim is that the increase in frequency of communicators was linked to the spread by vertical transmission of a specific adaptive trait. Hence, if cultural processes are constrained by evolutionary history, we expect that a propensity should exist for children to acquire useful innovations from their parents. An attempt is made to interpret the observations of cultural transmission in birds, nonhuman primates, and a hunter-gatherer group in terms of this and other predictions. The theoretical results presented here may also be useful in suggesting further empirical studies that can improve our understanding of the origin(s) of cultural transmission.


Social Learning Nonhuman Primate Alarm Call Cultural Transmission Vervet Monkey 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Tokyo 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenichi Aoki
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Faculty of ScienceThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan

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