A study published in PNAS yesterday shows that the process of natural selection can act on human culture as well as on genes. Stanford researchers showed that traits affecting survival and reproduction evolve at a different rate than other cultural attributes.
Using functional and symbolic design features for Polynesian canoes, we show that natural selection apparently slows the evolution of functional structures, whereas symbolic designs differentiate more rapidly. This finding indicates that cultural change, like genetic evolution, can follow theoretically derived patterns.
Nina Jablonski, chair of the Anthropology Department at Pennsylvania State University, said "This paper is revolutionary in its approach … one of the most significant papers to be written in anthropology in the last 20 years."