James Mark Baldwin and contemporary theories of culture and evolution

Thomas J.H. Morgan, Paul L. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


At the end of the nineteenth century, James Mark Baldwin was amongst America's foremost psychologists and his ideas concerning the interactions between development and evolution were widely discussed. Richards’ [Richards (1987). Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary theories of mind and behavior. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press] eloquent and sympathetic account of Baldwin's career devotes little space to the final period of Baldwin's life—from 1909 until his death in 1934—when professional scandal forced his relocation to Paris. Although Baldwin conducted no further empirical research in this period and his theories began to be displaced by the rediscovery of Mendelian inheritance, he continued to discuss the links between ontogenesis and phylogenesis with notable thinkers in the French-speaking world, including Pierre Janet. Piaget, who attended Janet's lectures during his two-year stay in Paris immediately after World War I, was also exposed to Baldwin's ideas. Looking back many years later, Piaget denied that Baldwin's theorizing had a deep influence on his own thinking. Nonetheless, Piaget's emphasis on ever more elaborate stages of cognitive development echoes important themes in Baldwin's work. Despite this, Piaget certainly did not assimilate Baldwin's important ideas about the transmission of culture—what Baldwin called “Social Heredity”. Piaget's neglect of this strand in Baldwin's conception of development has had major consequences for the study of cognition. Here we discuss the contemporary re-awakening of interest in Baldwin's ideas among biologists and suggest that it is time for developmental psychology to reconsider the centrality of cultural learning in early cognitive development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)666-677
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Developmental Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Baldwin
  • Culture
  • Evolution
  • Piaget

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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