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Cultural group selection follows Darwin's classic syllogism for the operation of selection

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 March 2016

Peter Richerson
Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California–Davis, Davis, CA 95616.
Ryan Baldini
Graduate Group in Ecology, University of California–Davis, Davis, CA 95616. ryanbaldini@gmail.comkjfrost@ucdavis.edu
Adrian V. Bell
Department of Anthropology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. av.bell@gmail.com
Kathryn Demps
Department of Anthropology, Boise State University, Boise, ID 83725. kathryndemps@boisestate.edu
Karl Frost
Graduate Group in Ecology, University of California–Davis, Davis, CA 95616. ryanbaldini@gmail.comkjfrost@ucdavis.edu
Vicken Hillis
Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California–Davis, Davis, CA 95616.
Sarah Mathew
School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287. sarah.mathew@asu.edu
Emily K. Newton
Department of Psychology, Dominican University of California, San Rafael, CA 94901. emily.newton@dominican.edu
Nicole Naar
Department of Anthropology, University of California–Davis, Davis, CA 95616. nanaar@ucdavis.edupaul.smaldino@gmail.com
Lesley Newson
Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California–Davis, Davis, CA 95616.
Cody Ross
Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM 86501. ctross@ucdavis.edu
Paul E. Smaldino
Department of Anthropology, University of California–Davis, Davis, CA 95616. nanaar@ucdavis.edupaul.smaldino@gmail.com
Timothy M. Waring
School of Economics, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469. timothy.waring@maine.edu
Matthew Zefferman
National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996. matt@zefferman.com


The main objective of our target article was to sketch the empirical case for the importance of selection at the level of groups on cultural variation. Such variation is massive in humans, but modest or absent in other species. Group selection processes acting on this variation is a framework for developing explanations of the unusual level of cooperation between non-relatives found in our species. Our case for cultural group selection (CGS) followed Darwin's classic syllogism regarding natural selection: If variation exists at the level of groups, if this variation is heritable, and if it plays a role in the success or failure of competing groups, then selection will operate at the level of groups. We outlined the relevant domains where such evidence can be sought and characterized the main conclusions of work in those domains. Most commentators agree that CGS plays some role in human evolution, although some were considerably more skeptical. Some contributed additional empirical cases. Some raised issues of the scope of CGS explanations versus competing ones.

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