THE ROLE OF CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT IN THE EVOLUTION OF HUMANITY
Understanding the evolution of humanity has been one of the most critical quests for most individuals in the current society. The intersection between environmental influences and culture creates an area of social interest with a focus on human evolution. Empirical research shows that the society plays a significant role in shaping the evolution of human beings as evidenced by psychological analysis of human evolution. The extraordinary cooperative nature of human beings raises more questions on the perceived changes of human behavior and interaction over time (Hawkes, Paine, & School, 2006). Among the factors that drive human beings to strive to understand their evolution, include paleoanthropology results that provide unique information that provides significant evidence to the aspects of human evolution postulated to have occurred millions of years ago. Results from fossil studies such as increasing brain size and the emergence of culture show a strong relationship between culture and environment in influencing the evolution of human beings (Boyd, 1988).
Structure of the research paper
This study analyzes the relationship existing between culture and the environment in contributing to the evolution of humanity. In specific, the research will answer questions related to the research question such as
What is the relationship between culture and the evolution of humanity?
What is the relationship between the environment and human evolution?
What are the impacts of the relationship between culture and environment has on human evolution?
The research paper will illuminate a light on the relationship between culture and environment in influencing the evolution of humanity. The analysis will draw concepts from different theories/models developed to explain the relationship and the use of different research materials including journals, articles, and books. The study takes thematic review where each of the above research topics will be analyzed separately to show the relationship.
Thematic literature review
Relationship between culture and the evolution of humanity
Culture is a factor not unique to human beings. Mammal species such as monkeys transfer their cultural information from one generation to the next. It happens to human beings who learn their culture from interacting with the people in the environment. Sociologists recognize that, culture has different uses and meanings depending on the perspectives of the targeted population. However, most acknowledge that, culture refers to a range of behavioral patterns acquired from the environment. It is a fragile phenomenon necessary for human survival. Culture changes from generation to generations because it only exists in our minds and changes with time. Groups in society have unique needs. The behavior among such groups is under a constant influence by other groups and external factors resulting in the degradation of the cultural values (Symons, 1980).
Culture has affected the evolution of human beings in a degree that is unprecedented in other animal species. Shoemaker, (1996) acknowledges that, culture has influenced human evolution in many ways affecting their lives both negatively and positively. Religious attitude and social attitudes influence the functioning of cultural alleles. Social beliefs of population growth, abortion, and birth control have changed significantly over time. Social attitudes about social structures such as families and marriage partners have changed over time translating to the evolution of the human beings. Cultures such as military culture have influenced the reproductive fitness of individuals globally since the early ages. Travel technology has facilitated the mixing of people from different parts in culture mix. This causes the evolution of human beings as the culture mix influence their behavior, beliefs, and values. Travel technology has resulted in the mixing and mating of people from different parts of the world. This results in decline and isolation of the human population, which translates its effects in the evolution of human beings (Hawkes, Paine, & School, 2006).
Evolution of human beings occurred under the influence of five major forces, which include mutation, culture, the mating structure of the population, natural selection, and genetic drift. Evolutionary biologists acknowledge that, natural selection, culture, genetic drift, and mutation have a significant impact on the evolution of human beings. Others are not considered to have a significant effect in most of the traditional texts (Darlington, 1978). Long before the introduction of agriculture, human beings migrated to occupy different regions around the world. Surviving in the new region was favorable for individuals with generic and cultural adaptation. Inability to adopt the desired cultural knowledge resulted in the emergence of individuals with a new culture different from the ones such people had.
As time went by, human beings kept developing more cultural adoption, thereby influencing the evolution of the human beings. The current society faces numerous changes that date back to the earlier years. Cultural diversities witnessed in various social organizations, kinship structures, mating partners, and group’s sizes have undergone significant transformations. The transformations have changed the cultural ideologies influencing the behavior of people over time. As a result, it led to the evolution of humanity to the present time (Croll & Parkin, 2002).
While explaining the relationship between culture and evolution of humanity, Symons, (1980) used gene culture co-evolutionary theory to explain the ways in which culture contributes to the evolution of human beings. According to the gene culture co-evolutionary model, human beings acquire knowledge from interacting with others in the society. The theory states that, cultural evolution results from genetically transformed psychological adaptations that facilitate the acquisition of beliefs, practices, mental models, and strategies from other members of the society. This results in the introduction of new ideas and behaviors that influence one’s behavior, thereby contributing to their evolution over time. Cognitive adaptations contribute to the growth of a second system of cultural evolution that transmits genetic inheritance and behaviors that affect human learning. The transmitted traits and acquired behaviors influence the behavior of individuals in the society, thereby influencing human evolution as these behaviors and characteristics are constant changes from biological and environmental influences (Foley, 1995).
Apart from this, cultural evolution has a strong influence on the evolution of human beings as it alters social and physical environment that is under constant interaction with the human beings. This result in a culture-gene co-evolution that changes social learning and depletion of the learning skills acquired from the ancestral group (Croll & Parkin, 2002). As a result, the newly developed culture-gene evolution shapes human genome that translates to the evolution of humanity. Cultural brain hypothesis states that, the evidence of expanding human brain shows the impact of culture in the evolution of humanity. According to the hypothesis, culture creates tools that provide human beings to improve their health and outcomes by embracing effective strategies perceived useful to human beings (Henrich & Boyd, 1998).
Herrmann et al. (2007) defined culture as information stored in the mind of an individual and obtained by imitating other people’s behaviors. Since culture is transferable from one person to another and people vary in their learning capabilities from what they gain, this may cause behavioral differences as witnessed among them in the society. As such, this supports the fact that, human beings are social beings who can cooperate even with strangers. Aspects like culture and travel foster interaction with strangers with a diverse cultural background. Combining the cultures result in the development of a “super culture” that influences people’s behavior across different regions globally. Cultural evolution has led to the development and changes in the behavior of social institutions that led to change in the affective and cognitive behavior of the social organizations. This change extends its influence on the evolution of human beings (Henrich & Boyd, 1998).
Empirical researches conducted by different scholars’ shows that, culture and genes are two forms of inheritance, which the offspring gain from their ancestors. The offspring acquires cultural and genetic legacy expressed in terms of artifacts and behavior. During its transfer, knowledge changes across generations leading to the rise of new genomes and cultures that shape humanity (Eagly & Wood, 1999). According to genetic theory, culture and genes change in response to natural selection and drift. This change results in the transmission of varied cultural behaviors, values, and beliefs that influence the behavior of people significantly across different populations. Culture shapes our material world. Its processes can affect the change frequencies of alleles in response to selection. There is a marked variance in the consistency of the knowledge transferred from the person. This might result in the production of an unusual strong natural selection consistent with the needs of the society over time.
In efforts to explain the relationship between culture and evolution of humanity, Ley, Peterson, & Gordon, (2006) used the niche construction theory to explain the relevance of culture in contributing to the evolution of human evolution. According to the niche theory, human beings strive to respond to the social needs by embracing behaviors that allow them to conform to the needs of the society. The design and culture affect human evolutionary path by modifying the selection. This causes the fixation of alleles that could otherwise be deleted leading to the extinction of the human species in nature. Therefore, employing the use of models such as the mathematical models to analyze the impact of culture on evolution shows that, the niche model is effective in influencing evolutionary outcomes of humans in the society (Herrmann et al. 2007).
It is appreciable that, cultural evolution contributed to the growth of cooperative groups. The environments favor the evolution of human beings to conform to the social instincts characterized by structural norms and values postulated to contribute to the evolution of the human beings (Eagly & Wood, 1999). However, much of the studies conducted to evaluate the relationship between culture and the evolution of human beings have largely focused on the economic point-of-view of analyzing the relationship. This creates study bias and unreliability of the study findings as it fails to represent the larger population affected by cultural evolution. Despite this weakness, the postulated relationships prove far much stronger as most of them focus on the cognitive domain of the individuals, which always under a constant influence of the learning experiences acquired from the environment (Jantsch, 1975). Therefore, the culture proves to have a strong relationship with the evolution of human beings as it influences their behavior and genetic makeup (Shoemaker, 1996).
Relationship between environment and human evolution
Paleoanthropologists speculate a strong relationship between the influence of the environment and the evolution of human beings. Environmental conditions may stimulate significant and long-term evolutionary changes in humanity. This may be seen from the emergence of new species and the accumulation of physical adaptations enabling humans to conform to the needs of the society. Environmental changes such as climate fluctuations, drying and cooling over time causes significant physiological changes such as enlargement of the brain, changes in the pattern of growth and the development complex social and mental behavior translating to the evolution of human beings (Jantsch, 1975).
Environmental changes stimulate evolutionary changes in the human genes. This makes them adapt to the environmental needs by providing them with flexibility when adjusting to the changes brought by the environment. Prolonged exposure of the human beings to unfavorable environmental conditions stimulates them to develop adaptive responses transferred to the offspring to facilitate their survival, hence, evolution of human beings (Foley, 1995). It is postulated that large-scale variability in climate altered the ecology of the landscape. This resulted in the precise adaptation or ecological pressure and the eventual genetic innovation and selection. Humans, who succeeded in adapting to such pressures, developed gene mutations that enabled the offspring survive the prevailing conditions. This promoted evolution of humanity as those who survived the environmental condition transferred the traits to the offspring maintaining survival (Loehlin, 2001). However, Ley, Peterson, & Gordon, (2006) disputes this ideology on the premise that, the findings are data limited and constrained by weaknesses and gaps of the studies used.
Human advances in technology witnessed in the industrial revolution period have created a significant impact on the evolution of the human beings. Technology has changed the human experience with nature. In particular, it has altered the population size, migration pattern, management of diseases and the introduction of different methods of executing life related activities (Henrich & Boyd, 1998). As a result, it changed the ways in which human beings perceive their environment and well-being affecting the evolution of the human beings. Human beings form part of the global ecosystem and have an evolutionary history that is affected by the earth’s system. Study on their revolution shows that, humans have evolved like other animals over time in the face of the dynamic environmental challenges (Scarr & McCartney, 1983). The challenges influenced the ways in which human beings seek for survival in the society and established social relationships to ensure their survival. This interaction resulted in the improvement of skills and knowledge in ensuring the survival transferred to the current generations. As such, this facilitated the continued survival of the human beings irrespective of the unfavorable conditions facing them (Herrmann et al. 2007).
In response to the environmental changes, human beings developed adaptive mechanisms such as tool making, upright walking and increasing the size of their brains to make them suit to their habitats (Hawkes, Paine, & School, 2006). As seen from the habitat-specific hypothesis, human genes responded to the environmental changes through gene mutation and cultural evolution. This resulted in behavioral changes among the human species. However, other factors other than environmental influence played a role in stimulating behavior change among the human beings in the earlier times. Environmental instability not only enabled the humans to become adapted to a specific environmental need, but developmental genes that adapt to multiple environments; a phenomenon referred to as phenotypic plasticity (Loehlin, 2001).
In support of the above, Shoemaker, (1996) acknowledged that, variability selection among the human beings in response to the environmental changes contributed to the evolution of the human beings. The variability hypothesis of selection acknowledges that, human beings developed behaviors and structures that enabled them to cope with the varying environmental conditions. However, the hypothesis differs from most of the approaches as it recognizes that regular environmental change results in the production of adaptive mechanisms specific to the need (Herrmann et al. 2007). Scholars recognize the need for continuous probes into the possible impact of differences in regional climate to the evolution of humanity. In specific, the phenomenon gives rise to questions about the potential impacts of the environment on the evolution of humanity. For example, researchers speculate that, climate controlled expansion of the prevailing conditions and availability of food stimulated bipedalism as an adaptive response to the environmental needs to ensure survival (Jantsch, 1975). As concluded by Ley, Peterson, & Gordon, (2006), this resulted in the development of adaptive strategies beneficial and transferable to the generations thereby ensuring the evolution of humanity.
Anthropological studies show that, human dispersal and the change in global climate interacted to influence the evolution of humanity many years ago. Human dispersal was first seen through Africa that spread to other parts of the world. The general declining status of the climate forced human systems to adapt to the prevailing conditions. Reconstruction of the environment provided the best basis for evolution of human being and behavior. It is through the reconstruction that, macro-evolutionary processes such as extinction and speciation of the human species that provided an opportunity for the evolution of human being species best suited for the harsh conditions in the environment (Scarr & McCartney, 1983). Environmental scenarios provide more assumptions of human evolution that tries to evaluate the origins of human beings. However, the scenarios have many weaknesses since that have minimal information about the past occurrences about the evolution of the human being. In spite of these, several hypotheses have been raised to try to explain evolution and the evolutionary factors that contributed to the evolution of human beings. For instance, the savannah hypothesis states that the exposure of organisms to the grassland environment stimulates a change in behavior and physiology. This is seen from aspects like the use of four limbs to foster survival (Loehlin, 2001).
The world environmental records on human evolution shows that, early inhabits of the human beings underwent significant remodeling, a factor that led to a change in their behavior and lifestyle (Buss, 1989). Environmental instability changed the normal lifestyle of the human beings and created a new generation with features adapted to the prevailing conditions. The range of the reported environmental changes was extensive and gave human beings the ability to adjust. However, extinction was evident in the human species that failed to cope with the environmental conditions. The sequence of the evolution of human beings reported by most of the archaeological studies represents large-scale variabilities. This influenced the selection of human beings and growth of a persistent behavior that withstood the challenges brought by the environmental remodeling (Ley, Peterson, & Gordon, 2006).
Changes in the ways of obtaining the necessities such as food and water are postulated to have triggered a massive evolutionary mechanism that led to the improvement of the human species. Results obtained from archeological studies of the human remains such as in Olduvai George (Kenya) provided insights of human interaction with their environment a million years ago. Basing on the findings of the archeological studies, environmental transition shifted rapidly back and forth between the open grassland and the closed woodlands. The changes in the sea surface temperatures around the tropical areas and the environment correlates with the massive evolutionary processes that played a role in contributing to the evolution of the human beings (Symons, 1980). Any slight environmental changes trigger genetically transmitted changes that that translates its influences to the next 15 generations. Despite the study using animal specimen, it revealed that slight ecological change results in a massive evolution to enable organisms adapt to the environment and manage their population. Similar is postulated to have occurred in the human species when they were exposed to significant changes in the environmental conditions. This implied a strong link between the short-term environmental changes and the human evolution. Therefore, this shows a great relationship between the environment and the evolution of the human beings (Scarr & McCartney, 1983).
Conclusively, both environmental and cultural factors contributed to the evolution of the human being. The rapid degradation of human culture and environmental stability intertwine to create a significant impact on the evolution and development of the human beings. Although the studies conducted to determine the evolution of human beings have limited information, they still provide clues on the path taken by the evolution of humanity. Therefore, more studies must be conducted in order to evaluate the magnitude of evolution and factors causing it.
Boyd, R. (1988). Culture and the Evolutionary Process. University of Chicago Press.
Buss, D.M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12(01), 1 — 14.
Croll, E., & Parkin, D. (2002). Bush Base, Forest Farm: Culture, Environment, and Development. Routledge.
Darlington, P.J. (1978). Altruism: Its characteristics and evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 75(1), 385 — 389.
Eagly, A.H., & Wood, W. (1999). The origins of sex differences in human behavior: Evolved dispositions vs. social roles. American Psychologist, 54(6), 408 — 423.
Foley, R. (1995). The adaptive legacy of human evolution: A search for the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 4(6), 194 — 203
Hawkes, K., Paine, R.R., & School of American Research (Santa Fe, N.M.). (2006). The evolution of human life history. Santa Fe: School of American Research.
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