Experimental evolutionary simulations of learning, memory and life history

Thomas J.H. Morgan, Jordan W. Suchow, Thomas L. Griffiths

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Humans possess an unusual combination of traits, including our cognition, life history, demographics and geographical distribution. Many theories propose that these traits have coevolved. Such hypotheses have been explored both theoretically and empirically, with experiments examining whether human behaviour meets theoretical expectations. However, theory must make assumptions about the human mind, creating a potentially problematic gap between models and reality. Here, we employ a series of ‘experimental evolutionary simulations’ to reduce this gap and to explore the coevolution of learning, memory and childhood. The approach combines aspects of theory and experiment by inserting human participants as agents within an evolutionary simulation. Across experiments, we find that human behaviour supports the coevolution of learning, memory and childhood, but that this is dampened by rapid environmental change. We conclude by discussing both the implications of these findings for theories of human evolution and the utility of experimental evolutionary simulations more generally. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Life history and learning: how childhood, caregiving and old age shape cognition and culture in humans and other animals’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190504
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1803
StatePublished - Jul 20 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


  • Childhood
  • Coevolution
  • Human evolution
  • Learning
  • Memory


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