Field of Science

Gene-culture Co-evolution

A while ago, I wrote on the hypothesis that humans have essentially stopped evolving genetically, because of our cultural emphasis on keeping all humans alive, no matter how disadvantaged.

The New York Times reports today on the opposite idea: that human culture may actually intensify the selective pressure on our genes. This idea is known as gene-culture co-evolution, since although our genes and our culture evolve through separate processes (biological reproduction vs. sharing of ideas), these two processes interact and affect each other.

The Times article surveys how culturally evolved changes in diet, lifestyle, and social norms could have influenced the genetic evolution of our digestive systems and brains. But as a discussion starter, I'm interested in more speculative questions: is our evolving culture still shaping our genetic evolution? If so, in which directions are we being pushed?


  1. You can't stop evolution :) but the fitness landscape has changed radically, at least in the West. Changing the fitness landscape is usually a spur to evolution.

    As to which way? Well, in the past status lead to reproductive success. So there was a big drive to acheive higher status. However now there is not - since children of low status parents have fairly good survival prospects (although still not as good as high status)

    What's more, children can be an impediment to career success. So many people forgo children (or breed later) in order to improve their status. In other words, our evolved drive to increase status can actually reduce reproductive success in the modern fitness landscape. This psychology will be selected against.

    That's my nostradamus moment for the day :)

  2. It strikes me that evolution is more or less constant. However, advances technology does have the effect of increasing the number of environments (artificial) and variety of environmental influences (manmade) in which evolution is occurring.

  3. I guess the thing to do would be to look at which cultural markers correlate with high birth rate. Ironically, in the West, it's probably not the ones we conventionally associate with "success".


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