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Economic Exchange as an Evolutionary Transmission Channel in Human Societies

31 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2012 Last revised: 17 May 2013

Bertin Martens

Joint Research Centre

Date Written: January 1, 2012


This paper argues that the (epi)genetic, cultural, symbolic, and environmental transmission channels are insufficient to explain the structure of modern human societies. Economic exchange of knowledge embodied in goods and services constitutes an additional transmission channel that makes more efficient use of limited human cognitive capacity. Economic exchange results in a gradual shift in societies from task-based division of labor to cognitive specialization. This shifts scarce cognitive resources away from production and into learning. It accelerates learning and reinforces the drive towards specialization. Cognitive specialization may constitute another 'major transition' towards a higher level of aggregation in human societies, with properties that differ from symbolic transmission.

Keywords: evolutionary economics, evolutionary biology, new synthesis, transmission channels, symbolic transmission, niche construction, division of labour, specialization, cognitive capacity

JEL Classification: B25, B52

Suggested Citation

Martens, Bertin, Economic Exchange as an Evolutionary Transmission Channel in Human Societies (January 1, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Bertin Martens (Contact Author)

Joint Research Centre ( email )

Edificio Expo, C
Inca Garcilaso, s/n
Sevilla, E-41092

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