The complexity of some cultural domains, such as technology, seems to be linked to population size. This makes intuitive sense: after all, we have iPhones and rockets, whereas hunter-gatherer societies do not. How does this work, however, for other, non-technological, cultural domains? Western stories are not more complex than Aboriginal Australians ones (I guess). What about religions, or kinship systems?
The next EHBEA conference in Paris will include a “satellite meeting” on cultural attraction theory: Cultural Evolution by Cultural Attraction: Empirical Issues
I will give a talk titled Three predictions for cultural attraction theory. Below the (tentative) slides. If you cannot wait, the three predictions are:
- lo-fi copying is more significant than hi-fi copying in cultural transmission
- domain-general social influence (context-biases) is not very important
- culture is a matter of global, often neutral, traditions, more than local, generally adaptive, differences
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).
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”.
[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.