Replication and Reconstruction. A quick note on Scott-Phillips 2017

An interesting article from Thom Scott-Phillips has been recently published in the Journal of Cognition and Culture: A (Simple) Experimental Demonstration that Cultural Evolution is not Replicative but Reconstructive – and an Explanations of Why this Difference Matters.

The article describes an experiment that nicely illustrates (“make flesh” in the words of Scott-Phillips) a thought experiment proposed by Dan Sperber. Shortly, imagine a Chinese whispers game, in which chains of individuals have to reproduce two drawings. One is a familiar configuration (in the specific case, the first three letters of the latin alphabet), while the other one is a meaningless scribble (see the image below, from Scott-Phillips’ paper).

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Movie scripts dataset

I uploaded on figshare (here) a dataset. From the description there:

This dataset contains 1,093 movie scripts collected from the website imsdb.com, each in a separate text file. The file imsdb_sample.txt contains the titles of all movies (corresponding file names are in the form Script_TITLE.txt).

The website was crawled in January 2017. Some scripts are not present as they were missing in imsdb.com or because they were uploaded as pdf files. Please notice that (i) the original scripts were uploaded on the website by individual users, so that they might not correspond exactly to the movie scripts and typos may be present; (ii) html formatting was not consistent in the website, and so neither is the formatting of the resulting text files.

Even considering (i) and (ii), the quality seems good on average and the dataset can be easily used for text-mining tasks.

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Birth of the Cool (not about Miles)

I recently published, together with Olivier Morin, a paper in Cognition and Emotion: Birth of the cool: a two-centuries decline in emotional expression in Anglophone fiction. The main result is about a clear decrease in the emotional tone in English-language literature, starting plausibly from the XIX century, a  decrease driven almost entirely by a decline in the proportion of positive emotion-related words, while the frequency of negative emotion-related words shows little if any decline. In other words, English literature became in the last centuries less “emotional” and, in particular, less “positive”.

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My talk at Cultural Evolution Seminar series in Tartu – Estonia

I gave yesterday a talk, via Skype, in the Cultural Evolution Seminar series at Tartu, Estonia. Oleg Sobchuk and the other organisers are doing a great job, I think, to diffuse knowledge about cultural evolution (and cognitive sciences, and digital humanities, etc.) and I was pleased to give my small contribution. Their website links also to the videos of two of the previous speakers, Cristina Moya and Alex Mesoudi, and provides excellent reading materials and information about cultural evolution.

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Possible confounds in conformity research – II

[The first part is here]

In a successive series of models, published in Scientific Reports, we considered whether other individual-level mechanisms could potentially be mistaken for conformity, generating relations between frequency of a trait and probability to copy it that looked like sigmoids. We choose a few simple and plausible mechanisms (you can refer to the paper for details) and we found that two of them – on a total of seven tested, plus three controls – generated relations for which a sigmoid function produced a better fit than a linear one (see figure below). The codes for running all simulations (written in Matlab) are available through the Open Science Framework.

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