Perspective ARTICLE

Front. Evol. Neurosci., 25 May 2011 |

Can we measure memes?

  • Department of Psychology, University of Surrey, Surrey, UK

Memes are the fundamental unit of cultural evolution and have been left upon the periphery of cognitive neuroscience due to their inexact definition and the consequent presumption that they are impossible to measure. Here it is argued that although a precise definition of memes is rather difficult it does not preclude highly controlled experiments studying the neural substrates of their initiation and replication. In this paper, memes are termed as either internally or externally represented (i-memes/e-memes) in relation to whether they are represented as a neural substrate within the central nervous system or in some other form within our environment. It is argued that neuroimaging technology is now sufficiently advanced to image the connectivity profiles of i-memes and critically, to measure changes to i-memes over time, i.e., as they evolve. It is argued that it is wrong to simply pass off memes as an alternative term for “stimulus” and “learnt associations” as it does not accurately account for the way in which natural stimuli may dynamically “evolve” as clearly observed in our cultural lives.

Keywords: meme, mirror neurons, fMRI, evolution, functional connectivity

Citation: McNamara1 A (2011) Can we measure memes?. Front. Evol. Neurosci. 3:1. doi: 10.3389/fnevo.2011.00001

Received: 22 December 2010; Paper pending published: 24 January 2011;
Accepted: 12 May 2011; Published online: 25 May 2011.

Edited by:

Lisa M. Renzi, The University of Georgia, USA

Reviewed by:

Robert Finkelstein, Robotic Technology Inc., USA
Francis Heylighen, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Copyright: © 2011 McNamara. This is an open-access article subject to a non-exclusive license between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and other Frontiers conditions are complied with.

*Correspondence: Adam McNamara, Department of Psychology, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7XH, UK. e-mail: