Professor Christine Anna Caldwell


Psychology University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA

Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

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About me

About me

I am a Professor in the Division of Psychology. I carry out research on human and animal learning and cognition, and I have particular interests in social learning and cultural evolution.

I have been working here at Stirling since 2004. Prior to this, I studied at the University of Edinburgh for my first degree (BSc Psychology), then Manchester for a Masters (MSc Cognitive Science), and got my PhD at St Andrews, studying social learning in nonhuman primates.

Event / Presentation

Plenary speaker, 2017, CES Jena, 14 September
Inaugural meeting of the Cultural Evolution Society

Plenary speaker, 2019, ACBS Dublin, 28 June
17th World Conference of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science

Plenary speaker, 2019, ISHE Croatia, 22 July
7th Summer Institute of the International Society for Human Ethology

Plenary speaker, 2019, PTNCE Prague, 27 September
6th Conference of the Polish Society for Human and Evolution Studies

Other Academic Activities

Advisory Board Member for the Cultural Evolution Society Transformational Fund Grants Scheme

Research Assessor, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

Research (4)

My research combines methods and techniques from experimental psychology with theoretical frameworks from the field of cultural evolution. My past research has included developing experimental methods for testing hypotheses about human cumulative cultural evolution. In particular I am interested in the distinctiveness of human culture, and the distinctiveness of human cognition, and how these impact upon one another. To address these questions, I carry out research with a wide range of different study populations, including human adults and children, and nonhuman primates.

Potential PhD students interested in these topics are encouraged to get in touch in order to discuss potential projects. Some specific examples of potential projects include:

  1. Children's understanding of source in social information use. It is well known that children are adept social learners from a young age. However, at what age do they know not just the socially learned information itself, but also the fact that they learned it that way? And does this affect how effectively they are able to apply what they learn?

  2. Imitative abilities across the lifespan. Children's ability to imitate improves as they get older, but we know much less about how imitative abilities change in older adults. Do we find imitation more difficult as executive function becomes impaired? How do any difficulties experienced by older adults compare with those of young children? And what might this tell us about the cognition involved in copying others?

  3. Effects of cultural population size on the cultural evolution of different types of traits. Conflicting conclusions have been found regarding the relationship between population size and cumulative cultural evolution, in both real world and experimental studies. Is this partly dependent on characteristics of the cultural traits being transmitted? Experimental research could manipulate trait properties to investigate the impact on the effects of population structure variables.

Previous Funded Research Projects:

ERC Consolidator Research Grant (No. 648841 RATCHETCOG), The cog in the ratchet: illuminating the cognitive mechanisms generating human cumulative culture, Sept2015-Feb2021, £1,370,000 (Principal Investigator Christine Caldwell).

ESRC Research Grant (RES-062-23-1634), An experimental approach to studying cultural variation and convergence, March2009-Feb2011, £315,446 (Principal Investigator Christine Caldwell).

ESRC "First Grants" Award (RES-061-23-0072), Testing hypotheses about cumulative cultural evolution, Oct2006-Sept2008, £143,161 (Principal Investigator Christine Caldwell).


The Cog in the Ratchet: Illuminating the Cognitive Mechanisms Generating Human Cumulative Culture
PI: Professor Christine Anna Caldwell
Funded by: European Commission (Horizon 2020)

The Cognitive requirements of cumulative culture: experiments with typically developing and autistic people
PI: Professor Christine Anna Caldwell
Funded by: Economic and Social Research Council

An experimental approach to studying cultural variation and convergence
PI: Professor Christine Anna Caldwell
Funded by: Economic and Social Research Council

Testing Hypotheses About Cumulative Cultural Evolution
PI: Professor Christine Anna Caldwell
Funded by: Economic and Social Research Council

Outputs (63)


Book Chapter

Caldwell CA (2023) What Is Cumulative Cultural Evolution?. In: Tehrani JJ, Kendal J & Kendal R (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Evolution. Oxford Handbooks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Book Chapter

O'Sullivan E & Caldwell CA (2022) Imitation. In: Vonk J & Shackelford T (eds.) Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.


Wilks CEH, Atkinson M & Caldwell CA (2022) Children's use of social information from multiple models: Cognitive capacities underlying population size effects on cumulative culture. Culture and Evolution.;


Singh M, Acerbi A, Caldwell CA, Danchin E, Isabel G, Molleman L, Scott-Phillips T, Tamariz M, van den Berg P, van Leeuwen E & Derex M (2021) Beyond social learning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 376 (1828), Art. No.: 20200050.


Thornton A, Happé F & Caldwell CA (2020) Supporting the weight of the elephant in the room: Technical intelligence propped up by social cognition and language. Commentary on: Osiurak, F., & Reynaud, E. (2020). The elephant in the room: What matters cognitively in cumulative technological culture. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 43, E156. doi:10.1017/S0140525X19003236. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 43, Art. No.: e179.


Fay N, De Kleine N, Walker B & Caldwell CA (2019) Reply to Martens: Various factors may enable large populations to enhance cumulative cultural evolution, but more evidence is needed. Refers to: J. P. Martens, Scenarios where increased population size can enhance cumulative cultural evolution are likely common. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 116, 17160 (2019). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116 (35), pp. 17161-17162.


O'Sullivan E & Caldwell CA (2017) Infant orofacial movements: Inputs, if not outputs, of early imitative ability?. Commentary on: Keven, N., & Akins, K. (2017). Neonatal imitation in context: Sensorimotor development in the perinatal period. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40. doi:10.1017/S0140525X16000911. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, Art. No.: e398.


Caes L, Caldwell CA, Rafetseder E, Grainger C, Renner E, Atkinson M, Shing YL & Kuipers JR (2017) Little Scientists – Big Impact [The Developmental Research Team at the University of Stirling explain why they love their psychology kindergarten]. The Psychologist, 30, pp. 30-33.

Book Chapter

Caldwell CA & Whiten A (2010) Social learning in monkeys and apes: cultural animals?. In: Campbell C, Fuentes A, MacKinnon K, Bearder S & Stumpf R (eds.) Primates in Perspective. 2nd ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press USA, pp. 652-662.;jsessionid=5E62E77E17EDDEDEE214F0C0F59B0FB1?cc=gb〈=en&

Book Chapter

Caldwell CA (2008) Experimental approaches to the study of culture in primates. In: Roska-Hardy LS & Neumann-Held EM (eds.) Learning from Animals?: Examining the Nature of Human Uniqueness. Hove, East Sussex: Taylor & Francis (Psychology Press UK), pp. 173-187.


Caldwell CA (2008) Convergent cultural evolution may explain linguistic universals. Commentary on: MH Christiansen and N Chater, 'Language as shaped by the brain', Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2008) 31, pp.489-509. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31 (5), pp. 515-516.

Book Chapter

Caldwell CA & Whiten A (2006) Social learning in monkeys and apes: Cultural animals?. In: Campbell C, Fuentes A, MacKinnon K, Panger M & Bearder S (eds.) Primates in Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 652-662.