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The Baldwin effect, also known as Baldwinian evolution or ontogenic evolution, is an early evolutionary theory proposed by American psychologist James Mark Baldwin which proposes a mechanism for specific selection for general learning ability. Selected offspring would tend to have an increased capacity for learning new skills rather than being confined to genetically coded, relatively fixed abilities. In effect, it places emphasis on the fact that the sustained behavior of a species or group can shape the evolution of that species.
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As an example, suppose a species is threatened by a new predator and there is a behavior that makes it more difficult for the predator to kill individuals of the species. Individuals who learn the behavior more quickly will obviously be at an advantage. As time goes on the ability to learn the behavior will improve (by genetic selection), and at some point it will seem to be an instinct.
The appearance of lactose tolerance in human populations with a long tradition of raising domesticated animals for milk production has been suggested as another example. This argument holds that a feedback loop operates whereby a dairy culture increases the selective advantage from this genetic trait, while the average population genotype increases the collective rewards of a dairy culture.
The Baldwin effect theory has always been controversial, with scholars being split in "Baldwin boosters" and "Baldwin sceptics". There have been a number of arguments against the effect. For example, it has been argued that the change from learning to instinct might not constitute an improvement, because only very stable environments where change is extremely slow would favour innate traits as opposed to the plasticity of learning (especially social learning, which doesn't have such high costs as individual learning by trial-and-error). The very mechanism of the transition has also been questioned, as genetic variations which "tend to decouple [...] behaviour from environmental signals" might be "distant from those genotypes that mediate plastic, learned response". 
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Baldwin_effect". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|