Gene-culture co-evolution

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A note for Lesson no. 7, "Our Brains Can Create Reality," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 120–121 is:

[Social reality is] so powerful that it can alter the speed and course of our genetic evolution.

Gene-culture co-evolution is a hypothesis that is part of the extended evolutionary synthesis. It suggests that genes and culture are two forms of inheritance that can transmit information across generations, and they influence one another. For a good review, see these references.[1][2][3]

Some tragic examples of human activity that has shaped our gene pool include:

  • Slavery
  • Eugenics[4][5]
  • Wars
  • Political decisions that affect the spread of deadly bugs during outbreaks of infectious disease, such as the Ebola outbreak or the COVID-19 pandemic[6][7][8]


  1. Richerson, Peter J., Robert Boyd, and Joseph Henrich. 2010. "Gene-Culture Coevolution in the Age of Genomics." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (Supplement 2): 8985–8992.
  2. Whitehead, Hal, Kevin N. Laland, Luke Rendell, Rose Thorogood, and Andrew Whiten. 2019. "The Reach of Gene-Culture Coevolution in Animals." Nature Communications 10 (1): 1–10.
  3. Laland, Kevin N. 2017. Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind, chapter 9. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  4. Black, Edwin. 2003. War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. Washington, DC: Dialog Press.
  5. Miller, Lulu. 2020. Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  6. Goodman, Peter S. 2020. "Sweden Has Become the World’s Cautionary Tale." New York Times, July 7.
  7. Dodd, Darren. 2020. "The Covid-19 Conundrum: Lives vs. Livelihoods." Financial Times of London, May 20.
  8. Kahn, Jeremy. 2020. "The Reopening Dilemma: Saving Lives Vs. Saving the Economy Is a False Tradeoff, Economists Say." Fortune, May 4.