The Impact of Globalization on Cultures

Variation in Creativity    |    Culture & Reality    |    Impact of Globalization    |    Applying Cultural Evolution    |    Applied Working Groups

We live in an ever more interdependent world, the current and future implications of which are ripe for investigation through a cultural evolutionary lens. Mathematical models indicate that large, interconnected populations may increase in technological complexity more rapidly than smaller populations, as they generate and recombine more innovations, and resist loss of technology through random cultural drift (e.g. Powell et al. 2009, Lewis & Laland 2012). As these models assume an ‘effective population size’ of the number of people able to interact, today’s globalized digital age holds great potential for invention and maintenance of increasingly complex culture. Yet the effects on cultural evolutionary dynamics of hyper-availability of online information to enormous audiences, and the novel features of digital transmission, are only recently being investigated (Acerbi 2019). Globalization also poses inherent risks, especially as we increasingly face cooperative dilemmas on an unprecedented global scale (e.g. climate change, pandemics). World-systems analysis enables an interdisciplinary investigation of the current dynamics of global interdependencies and resultant inequalities and power differentials (Wallerstein 2004). These inequalities and the lack of agency for some peoples to control their own future is of academic and public concern. It is quite possible that the merging of humanity into a single “effective population” will erase cultural variation. Historically, there is much evidence of one population replacing another due to a specific cultural advantage (Creanza et al. 2017). Replacement, when borne by violence or other power differentials (“cultural genocide”) may be impossible to resist. Yet peoples’ cultural beliefs and practices are vulnerable to erosion even where ‘merely’ interacting with dominant or spreading cultures. However, there may be cultural attributes that allow people to resist change. Cultures with a ‘short-term orientation’ (Hofstede 2011) honour their traditions more strongly than those with a ‘long-term orientation’ who are more future-focused and more likely to learn from other countries. This grant, explicitly enabling geographically diverse voices, catalyzes truly beneficial research in this area, and enables the field to leverage the globalization process to understand processes of cultural evolution. Finally, we may consider the negative (and positive) impact of globalization on nonhuman cultures (Gruber et al. 2019).


Loss of Knowledge Diversity may impact technological development. Globalization results in loss of ethnobotanical knowledge (Reyes-García et al. 2005) and the distinctive reality represented in lost traditional languages (Olko et al. 2016). Yet the pooling of Indigenous and scientific knowledge can effectively solve complex problems and encourage uptake of technology (Palis 2017). Likewise, there is an open question as to whether global hyper-connectedness of individuals stifles innovation (Derex & Boyd 2016) and increases maladaptive ‘herding’ (Toyokawa et al. 2019). Given the balance of innovation and social learning required for cultural evolution, homogeneity in relevant cultural dimensions in global industries may limit future achievements (Tellis et al. 2003). Cultural evolution’s consideration of multi-level processes, and interdisciplinarity, promises fruitful modelling of the future impacts of globalization on cultural adaptation. 


Positive aspects of globalization include economic development due to more transformative innovations, speedier cultural evolution, and greater ability to adapt to environmental change (Kolodny et al. 2015), within societies infiltrated by cultural attitudes towards assigning deviance from tradition a measure of prestige (Arbilly & Laland 2017), rather than disapproval (Hofstede 2011). Similarly, openness to diversity arises in populations with increased contact with minorities (Pettigrew & Tropp 2006) often facilitated by globalization, and a recent study (Rucks et al. 2019) established that changes in openness to diversity precede changes to democratic institutions. Thus, incorporation of diverse fields would benefit understanding of the cultural evolutionary dynamics of key benefits and challenges of globalization for economic development, as well as political and religious stability or change (Beyer 1994).


International migration is outpacing global population growth (United Nations, 2019). As such, contemporary and historical studies of acculturation, or cultural adaptation of immigrants, have never been more important. Migration levels may now exceed historical levels that prevented ‘swamping’ of cultures and maintained cultural divergence (Pagel & Mace 2004). Yet studies of acculturation imply variation in the extent to which cultural values shift towards those of the adopted society or are maintained (Mesoudi et al. 2016, 2018). Moreover, the extent to which migrants maintain use of their native tongue can impact on negative attitudes towards ethnic minorities consequently endangering those native languages (Olko et al. 2016). A multidisciplinary cultural evolution approach is vital here given the increasing popularity of anti-immigration and nationalist political parties globally.


Pre-existing cultural beliefs may be incompatible with ‘invading’ ideas (e.g. Rogers 1995). Worse, invading cultural practices may be maladaptive in the host population. For example, cultivation of bitter manioc while crucial for global food security causes high mortality where cultural processing methods are not transmitted (Burns et al. 2010). Globalized media consumption is implicated in the spread of Western body ideals (Boothroyd et al. 2019) driving the global increase in disordered eating (Erskine et al. 2016). Yet the impact of ‘cultural erosion/invasion’ on people’s well-being, lived experience, and a community’s social cohesion, is understudied from a cultural evolution perspective, despite much research here in linguistics (Olko et al. 2016). In contrast, spread of negatively valenced anglophone music and art (Brand et al. 2019) may beneficially influence cultural attitudes towards mental health (Gopalkrishnan 2018), which are influenced by cultural variation in emotion semantics (Jackson et al. 2019b).

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