Cognitive innovation, cumulative cultural evolution, and enculturation

Regina E. Fabry*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Cognitive innovation has shaped and transformed our cognitive capacities throughout history. Until recently, cognitive innovation has not received much attention by empirical and conceptual research in the cognitive sciences. This paper is a first attempt to help close this gap. It will be argued that cognitive innovation is best understood in connection with cumulative cultural evolution and enculturation. Cumulative cultural evolution plays a vital role for the inter-generational transmission of the products of cognitive innovation. Furthermore, there are at least two important functions of enculturation for cognitive innovation. First, enculturation is responsible for the ontogenetic acquisition of cognitive practices governing the interaction with innovative products. Second, successful processes of enculturation provide opportunities for subsequent innovative processes. The trans-generational trajectory of calculation from mathematical symbol systems to the first digital computers will serve as a paradigm example of the delicate interplay of cognitive innovation, cumulative cultural evolution, and enculturation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375–395
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Cognition and Culture
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • cognitive innovation
  • cumulative cultural evolution
  • enculturation
  • neural plasticity
  • embodiement
  • cognitive niche construction
  • mathematical cognition
  • computation


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