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Cultural transmission – as opposed to genetic transmission – requires some form of social learning. Thus, no one would claim cultural transmission if all members of a population learned a particular behavior only because they had all been exposed to the same set of contingencies from the physical environment. In this case, there is no cultural transmission because there is no social learning. Intergenerational cultural transmission is clearly the appropriate concept, on the other hand, when adults intentionally teach the younger generation or when the younger generation imitates adults. Such clear forms of transmission may not always be involved in the intergenerational transfer of information, however. The term cultural in cultural transmission indicates the transmission of cultural elements that are widely distributed, such as social orientations, knowledge, skills, and behaviors (e.g., rituals).
Cultural persistence is essentially a question of social transmission (Cavalli-Sforza & Feldman, 1981). Vertical social transmission from the parent generation to the offspring generation may prepare the ground for continuity in culture. It is less responsive to environmental variability (Laland, 1993). However, the process of cultural transmission does not lead to a constant replication of culture in successive generations; rather, it falls somewhere between an exact transmission (with hardly any difference between parents and offspring) and a complete failure of transmission (with hardly any similarity between the generations).
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