I am organising a one-hour theme session at the inaugural conference of the Cultural Evolution Society that will take place in Jena in September. The outline programme of the conference has been just published on their website. The session – “Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age” – is scheduled for the first day, Wednesday the 13th, in the morning. Plenty of other interesting talks and events all throughout the conference (but of course I am quite biased…). Below the excellent abstracts of the three talks that will constitute the session. See you in Jena!
Predicting the replicative success of Twitter hashtags from their intrinsic properties
Inferring processes of cultural transmission: the critical role of rare variants
Lexical transformations in blogspace: a case study in short-term cultural evolution
Cultural Attraction Theory (CAT) introduced the notion of cultural attractors to provide a conceptual link between individual- and population-level cultural evolution processes. In this framework, attractors drive the collective convergence of representations towards specific areas despite imprecise information transmission between individuals. However, validating the existence of such attractors remains an empirical challenge which has generated a diverse number of approaches. The current deluge of digital traces offers a compelling opening in this problem and, conversely, CAT is in a good position to shed light on information propagation in online communities by introducing a more cognitively informed viewpoint on transmission behavior.
Here, we focus on the linguistic domain and study the transformation of quotations when they are copied from website to website (blogs or online media), using a large dataset of timestamped posts. By coding words with well-studied lexical features such as word frequency or age of acquisition, and inferring the most probable links between occurrences of minimally different quotations, we show that substitutions introduced by authors in those quotations are both consistent with the hypothesis of cultural attractors (words are attracted to feature-specific values) and with known lexical effects (for instance, words harder to recall in lists have a higher tendency to be substituted, whereas words easier to recall are produced instead).
Using an original “data science” approach, we more broadly demonstrate an empirical connection between psycholinguistics, digital media, and the field of cultural evolution.