Baldwin effect

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The Baldwin effect describes an evolutionary process whereby a facile ability to learn something advantageous to an individual's fitness becomes, over a variable number of generations, genetically encoded in the gene pool of a species—a non-Lamarckian type of inheritance of acquired characteristics (Weber and Depew 2003).

The concept was first proposed by James Mark Baldwin in 1896 (Baldwin 1896), and given a formal evolutionary explication by George Gaylord Simpson in 1953 (Simpson 1953). Simpson wrote:

The ability to "acquire" a character has, in itself, a genetical basis. Selection acts (with some exceptions) on the phenotype, so that it is valid to say that selection is actually not on genetical characters but on the ability to acquire character...Seen in a modern context, the Baldwin effect helps to focus attention on a host of problems, especially in developmental (or physiological) genetics, well worthy of further study. It does not, however, seem to require any modification of the opinion that the directive force in adaptation, by the Baldwin effect or in any other particular way, is natural selection.



  • Weber BH, Depew DJ. (2003) Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered. Cambridge, Mass,: MIT Press.
    • TOC: Baldwin boosters, Baldwin skeptics | Baldwin and his many effects / David J. Depew | Baldwin effects and the expansion of the explanatory repertoire in evolutionary biology / Stephen M. Downes | Between Baldwin skepticism and Baldwin boosterism / Peter Godfrey-Smith | The Baldwin effect: a crane, not a skyhook / Daniel Dennett | Multilevel selection in a complex adaptive system: the problem of language origins / Terrence W. Deacon | Postscript on the Baldwin effect and niche construction / Peter Godfrey-Smith, Daniel Dennett, and Terrence W. Deacon | Evolution, development, and the individual acquisition of traits: what we've learned since Baldwin / Celia L. Moore | Baldwin and beyond: organic selection and genetic assimilation / Brian K. Hall | On having a hammer / Susan Oyama | Beyond the Baldwin effect: James Mark Baldwin's "Social Heredity," epigenetic inheritance, and niche construction / Paul E. Griffiths | The Baldwin effect in the age of computation / Ruben R. Puentedura | Role of predator-induced polyphenism in the evolution of cognition: a baldwinian speculation / Scott F. Gilbert | Baldwin and biosemiotics: what intelligence is for / Jesper Hoffmeyer and Kalevi Kull | The hierarchic logic of emergence: untangling the interdependence of evolution and self-organization / Terrence W. Deacon | Emergence of mind and the Baldwin effect / Bruce H. Weber .
  • van Speybroek L, Van de Vijver G. (2006) The Baldwin Effect: A Matter of Perspective. Biological Theory 1(2):206-208. A review of Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered, by Bruce H. Weber and David J. Depew (eds.) MIT Press, 2003.
    • Excerpt: Far more interesting is that Baldwin did not provide "a clear-cut concept, phenomenon, or mechanism" (p. ix) and that its interpretation largely depends on the theoretical perspective in which it is used. The Baldwin effect thus allows us to (re)investigate the conceptual load of diverse historical and current stances taken with respect to (neo-) Darwinian and Lamarckian evolutionary theory.