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. Associated discourses include:
  • Anthropogenic Evolution (2020s) – either (1) biocultural evolution of the human species as influenced by human-caused changes to the more-than-human world, or (2) biological evolution of other species as influenced by human-caused changes to the environment
  • Population Dynamics – the disciplined analysis of the evolutions of a population over time – that is, of the how’s and why’s of population change
  • Repeated Learning (P. Strimling, 2000s) – Contrasted with Population Learning (see above), by which one acquires a trait/information by virtue of being a member of a species (that is, such learning/evolution occurs only once, at the level of the species), Repeated Learning applies to the learning of an aspect of culture, which must be learned repeatedly (that is, it must be learned by each member of the culture individually).
  • Social Evolution – subdiscipline of both evolutionary biology and sociology, focused on social behaviors and the evolution of social systems
  • Sociocultural Evolution (Cultural Evolution; Sociocultural Evolutionism; Sociogenesis) — theories describing how societies and cultures change over time


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. See Universal Darwinism for additional commentary.

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.


  • Anthropogenic Evolution
  • Population Dynamics
  • Repeated Learning
  • Social Evolution
  • Sociocultural Evolution (Cultural Evolution; Sociocultural Evolutionism; Sociogenesis)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2024). “Dual Inheritance Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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