Cultural Evolution at EHBEA 2016

The annual conferences of the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association (EHBEA) are usually cultural evolution-friendly. Same goes for this year: the conference will be held next week at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. All talks are in fact very relevant, but here a selection of the titles more explicitly related to cultural evolution, in chronological order (the full booklet can be downloaded here). It may give a reasonably good idea of what is currently happening in the field – with perhaps some Eurocentric bias.

‘Women choose to use social information when asocial information is risky’ – Charlotte Brand et al.

‘Solitary activity as an ecocultural driver of cognitive variability’ – Kesson Magid & Alex Mesoudi

‘D-PLACE: introducing a global database of cultural, linguistic and environmental diversity’ – Fiona Jordan et al.

‘‘Gossip made tedious by morality’? Testing for a moral content bias in cultural transmission’ – Joseph M. Stubbersfield et al.

‘Cultural complexity and demography: the case of folktales’ – Alberto Acerbi et al.

‘The domain-general path to god’ – Charles Efferson & Ryan McKay

New Investigator Award Plenary: Olivier Morin ‘Culture’s what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’

‘An inference framework for analysing patterns of cultural change in sparse population data: evidence for fashion trends in LBK culture’ – Anne Kandler

‘Gene-culture co-inheritance of behavioral traits’ – Elliot Aguilar & Erol Akçay

‘Cumulative culture and cultural diversity’ – Elena Miu et al.

‘Epidemiological perspectives on medical beliefs’ – Helena Miton & Hugo Mercier

‘The spontaneous emergence of social conventions: an experimental study of cultural evolution’ – Andrea Baronchelli

‘A life history of human foraging in 25 societies: variation, aging, big data, and big models’ – Richard McElreath & Jeremy Koster

‘Asocial learning performance, but not exploration tendency, predicts the decrease of social learning strategy use in humans‘ – Wataru Toyokawa et al.

‘Social learning and cooperation across societies’ – Lucas Molleman & Simon Gächter

‘Knowledge-sharing networks in hunter-gatherers and the evolution of cumulative culture’ – Gul Deniz Salali

‘Kin and non-kin influences on women’s reproduction during a demographic transition: a multilevel analysis’ – Heidi Colleran



I do not have information on posters. Abstracts  can be found through Guidebook (but I have been so far unsuccessful). Below the abstract of my talk. Comments welcome!

Cultural complexity and demography: the case of folktales

Alberto Acerbi, Jamie Tehrani, Krist Vaesen

Recent work in cultural evolutionary theory supports the idea that demography – in particular, population size – is one of the key drivers of cultural complexity. A widely invoked theoretical justification for the existence of a correlation between population size and cultural complexity rests on the premise that cultural transmission is error prone, that errors are random, and that they tend to deteriorate the cultural traits one attempts to copy. The bigger a population, the more likely complex cultural traits can be copied faithfully by at least one member, and thus be preserved across generations. However, for some cultural domains, such as storytelling, cultural transmission is a mainly reconstructive process, where individual modifications are not random, and some features of the cultural traits tend to be reproduced with high probability by most individuals, perhaps because particularly easy to remember or attention-catching. Our hypothesis is that, in these cases, the effect of population size on cultural complexity should be negligible.

We analyse a specific domain – folktales – using three different ways to calculate complexity: (i) the number of different folktales present in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification (ATU) per population, (ii) the number of different ATU motifs per population, and (iii) the number of narrative traits in different variants of the same tale, for three cases where data were available (Little Red Riding Hood, The Kind and Unkind Girls, Polyphemus). Consistently with our hypothesis, we do not find a correlation between cultural complexity and population size for folktales.

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