Dual Inheritance Theory


Biocultural Evolution
Gene–Culture Coevolution


Co-evolution of genetics and culture

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of manifest possibility
  • Knowing is … viable activity
  • Learner is … evolving agent (individual, social, cultural)
  • Learning is … replicating patterns, copying
  • Teaching is … manifesting, modeling




Dual Inheritance Theory aims to explain human activity in terms of two intertwined processes: biological evolution and cultural evolution. Concisely, changes at the genetic level can influence culture, and changes in culture can influence genetic selection.


Criticisms of Dual Inheritance Theory have tended to be developed around concern that the association between biological evolution and cultural evolution may be, at best, an analogy – whereas proponents of the theory tend to treat it as literal.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Richard Dawkins; E.O. Wilson

Status as a Theory of Learning

Dual Inheritance Theory can be construed as an attempt to make sense of the co-entanglement of two learning systems.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Dual Inheritance Theory is not a theory of teaching, but proponents make frequent references to the role of teaching in cultural evolution.

Status as a Scientific Theory

No systematic program of research has arisen around Dual Inheritance Theory, no doubt in part due to huge methodological complexities associated with making sense of cultural and biological dynamics simultaneously. These systems operate in very different physical and temporal scales. As well, considerable criticism has been leveled against some orienting assumptions, especially around efforts to generalize or transpose principles based on one domain of evolution onto another.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Dual Inheritance Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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