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Imitation as an inheritance system

By Nicholas Shea

Abstract

What is the evolutionary significance of the various mechanisms of imitation, emulation and social learning found in humans and other animals? This paper presents an advance in the theoretical resources for addressing that question, in the light of which standard approaches from the cultural evolution literature should be refocused. The central question is whether humans have an imitation-based inheritance system - a mechanism that has the evolutionary function of transmitting behavioural phenotypes reliably down the generations. To have the evolutionary power of an inheritance system, an imitation-based mechanism must meet a range of demanding requirements. The paper goes on to review the evidence for and against the hypothesis that there is indeed an imitation-based inheritance system in humans

Topics: Philosophy, mechanisms of imitation, evolution of imitation, inheritance system, mirror system, cultural evolution
Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0061
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