Bringing Together Cultural Evolution and Cultural Learning

Psychology generally has begun to recognize the importance of integrating and unifying its many diverse interests and accomplishments.

As APS Fellow David G. Myers so valuably indicates in “Simulating Cultural Evolution” (Observer, October 2016), it has been illustrated that cultural evolution is cumulative (Caldwell, Atkinson, & Renner, 2016). Moreover, researchers have experimentally shown cumulative microcultures in action. Myers has projected additional experimental studies of cumulative cultural evolution.

In terms of integration, it would be productive to add that Staats (2012) has developed another cumulative explanation of cultural change based on humans’ cumulative learning. “Take religion as another example … A book entitled Man and His Gods by Homer W. Smith (1952) provides a historical description of how aspects of the religious beliefs of a people are drawn upon by a later people creating their new religion” (2012, pp. 285–287).

The two approaches have much in common that should be brought together, but they arise within different theoretical and empirical frameworks. Bringing that separated knowledge together would inform each framework greatly.

Arthur W. Staats
APS Fellow
Professor Emeritus of Psychology
University of Hawaii, Honolulu


Caldwell, C. A., Atkinson, M., & Renner, E. (2016). Experimental approaches to studying cumulative cultural evolution. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25, 191–195. doi:10.1177/0963721416641049

Smith, H. W. (1952). Man and his gods. New York: Universal Library.

Staats, A. W. (2012). The marvelous learning animal: What makes human nature unique. New York: Prometheus/Random House.