Not so fast: the cultural evolution proceeds at the same rate that the biological

Sometimes it seems that modern culture is evolving at a dizzying pace. In music, cinema and literature, new styles and rapidly changing trends, fashion designers and designers do not cease to surprise with new concepts constantly come in the fashion new applications and so on.

In comparison, the changes in nature seem to occur much more slowly. After all, genetic mutations, giving animals and plants new benefits, are fixed in the new generations gradually.

But is it really? Or human culture is not developing as fast as it may seem, we are not so eager to change?

to Answer this question is not easy, because analysis of how culture changes, there is no specific criterion or, say, the unit of measure.

yet scientists from the UK and the USA tried to compare the rates of cultural and biological evolution, using the original approach.

the Objects of study have become popular music, English literature, scientific publications, and the design of the car.

In particular, the experts analyzed 17 thousand songs on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1960 and 2010, and selected a hundred musical characteristics (variables). In the case of cars was seen 16 different settings (including size and capacity). Finally, the researchers examined the 2200 literary works of British writers of the nineteenth century and 170 thousand scientific publications, the British medical journal. As the variables has been identified 500 different topics.

Using the metrics and tools of evolutionary biology, the team compared the rate of cultural change with the speed of the biological changes of four species (snails, birds and two species of butterflies), which are considered a model in this context.

For example, changing the color of the wings of the birch moth – the most famous example of industrial melanism. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the wings of these moths were white-grey with dark patches, bthanks to what insects were invisible on the trunks of trees. However, their color changed with the advent of the industrial revolution, when Britain was literally covered with soot. When entered into force the laws regulating emission of pollutants, and the trees returned to normal color, the color of butterfly wings changed again.

Other “standard” animals darwinova reels that change the form of the beak in response to environmental changes (e.g., droughts and rain). For example, these birds are evolutionists have proved that new species can evolve in just two generations.

And for the cultural and biological groups, the team calculated the figures, reflecting the pace of change. And they were the same.

“It says something about human psychology. We are amazingly conservative about our choices and what we like, changing very slowly,” – said the head of the research group of Roy Arman (Armand Leroi) from Imperial College London.

According to some researchers, the cultural artifacts can be considered as organisms: they grow, change and reproduce.

a Simple example: people quickly forget bad jokes, but again and again tell each other funny stories. We have for centuries read books, classics, and the glory of the bestselling one-day fades away. A new approach in science applies only if the researchers believe that it was fruitful, and so on.

“When we create something new, be it a scientific article or work of art, we take that and produced in the world, and it either lives or dies. Its success depends on whether people like it or not, [it is] just like natural selection,” says Professor Leroy, implying that the environmental factor that drives evolution in nature, in the case of the culture is replaced by the factor of human perception.

in addition, cultural and biological evolution happen in short bursts of significant change, often due to external factors. For example, aimSal change the shape of beaks of Darwin finches, you can compare with the rapid pace of evolution of the car – namely, with the advent of the electric family “offspring” (by the way, in both cases, the trigger became climate change.)

Leroy Also notes that the same darwinova finches produce offspring on average once a year. About the same time required for writing and production of a new book or song (that is, in fact, these cultural artifacts “multiply” at the same rate).

by the Way, the hypothesis that over long periods of time, the cultural and biological evolution are equally slow processes, contrary to some previous studies that examined the rate of change of archaeological artifacts (e.g., stone tools).

According to one of such works, the development of human culture occurs twice faster than biological evolution. The author of this study Charles Perrault (Charles Perrault) of the University of Arizona argues that it is adaptive speed: due to the relatively rapid development of the people could adapt to the new ecosystems, and the lifespan increased.

Scientific article on the results of a new study by evolutionary biologists presented in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

by the Way, “Conduct.Science” ( wrote about an earlier work by the same research group: the scientists have focused exclusively on the development of pop music and found that it occurs in patterns of biological evolution.

Text: To.Science