On Cultural Evolution


I was at the RSA a few days ago to listen to Professor Mike O’Brien from the University of Missouri and Dr. Alex Bentley of Durham University speak about how their research on evolution can be applied to human behavioural studies, courtesy Mark Earls.  One of the examples Dr. Bentley mentioned that stuck with me was how when we go to buy a pair of glasses, we tend to buy glasses that we’d seen people wearing on the way to the store (frequency dependent bias, which results in homogeneity, which in turn results in something becoming contagious – or to me, a trend). I thought that was quite interesting.

Another example that Professor O’Brien mentioned was the Charge of the Brides that happens in Filene’s Basement every year, which I remember from that episode of Friends. There’s a lot of sociological theory I remember from university that can be applied here (mobs, collective behaviour and so on), but this kind of herd behaviour is what in general results in inventions often becoming innovations, as he mentioned.

At work, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a project a success through propagation planning. The cultural evolution theory explains why this is so difficult. As it says here, as human populations transform themselves, their culture becomes progressively complex. So it isn’t easy.

And so I beaver on.

2 thoughts on “On Cultural Evolution

  1. Lovely blog! I love your style of writing. But hate to conform to the mob behavior. Having said that i wonder if people would fail to fit in social patterns and society expectations had they defied mob persona.

    Even taking a stand for an issue these days is defined by the collective. Will we forget our individuality and roots if we are always checking to match others opinion? These are some of the questions that were racing through my mind as i read your post.

    Answers are not forthcoming. May be that is the way it should be as complexity cannot be questioned with our progressive? human culture.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for your comment, Surya Kannan! Nice observation – individual vs. mob behaviour. I suppose as you say cultural evolution itself is a good explanation of why those two behaviours themselves are so different too 🙂

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