Culture, embodiment and genes

Unravelling the triple helix

Michael Wheeler*, Andy Clark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

54 Citations (Scopus)


Much recent work stresses the role of embodiment and action in thought and reason, and celebrates the power of transmitted cultural and environmental structures to transform the problem-solving activity required of individual brains. By apparent contrast, much work in evolutionary psychology has stressed the selective fit of the biological brain to an ancestral environment of evolutionary adaptedness, with an attendant stress upon the limitations and cognitive biases that result. On the face of it, this suggests either a tension or, at least, a mismatch, with the symbiotic dyad of cultural evolution and embodied cognition. In what follows, we explore this mismatch by focusing on three key ideas: cognitive niche construction; cognitive modularity; and the existence (or otherwise) of an evolved universal human nature. An appreciation of the power and scope of the first, combined with consequently more nuanced visions of the latter two, allow us to begin to glimpse a much richer vision of the combined interactive potency of biological and cultural evolution for active, embodied agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3563-3575
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1509
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Cultural transmission
  • Embodied cognition
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Modularity
  • Neuroconstructivism
  • Niche construction

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