Cognitive history and cultural epidemiology

TitleCognitive history and cultural epidemiology
Publication TypeBook Chapter
AuthorsHeintz, C.
EditorsMartin, Luther H., and Jesper Sorensen
Book TitlePast Minds: Studies in Cognitive Historiography
PublisherEquinox Press
Place of PublicationLondon
Publisher link

Cultural epidemiology is a theoretical framework that enables historical studies to be informed by cognitive science. It incorporates some insights from evolutionary psychology and some from Darwinian models of cultural evolution. Its research program include the study of the multiple cognitive mechanisms that cause the distribution, on a cultural scale, of representations and material cultural items. By a detailed analysis of the social cognitive causal chain that occurred in the past, one can find out and specify which are the factors of attraction that account for cultural stability as well as historical cultural change. After reviewing recent research and developments in cognitive history, I present the concept of cultural attractor and explain why cultural attractors are historically variable. In doing so, I emphasize the role of historically constituted cognitive mechanisms, which account for much of historical cultural developments. I argue that the framework of cultural epidemiology can better account for these important historical phenomena than evolutionary psychology accounts of culture and dual inheritance theory. I conclude that describing and explaining the history of cultural attractors is a good research question for historians.