“Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age” theme session at the CESC 2017

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!

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Three predictions for cultural attraction theory

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:

  1. lo-fi copying is more significant than hi-fi copying in cultural transmission
  2. domain-general social influence (context-biases) is not very important
  3. culture is a matter of global, often neutral, traditions, more than local, generally adaptive, differences

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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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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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Possible confounds in conformity research – I

I recently did some modelling work, in collaboration with Edwin van Leeuwen and others, exploring possible confounds in conformity research. As I discussed in a post some time ago, “conformity”, in cultural evolution, has a precise meaning as a disproportionate tendency to copy the majority. “Disproportionate” here means that the probability to copy a popular cultural trait should be higher than the frequency of the trait itself. In other words, if 60% of your friends wear read, and 40% wear blue, not only you should be more likely to also wear read (this would happen also by copying at random), but your probability to wear read should be higher than 60%. Why is this important? Conformity, in this technical sense, allows majority behaviours to be resistant to random fluctuations, or to changes in population, like migrations, etc. This, in turn, contributes to maintain stable cultural differences between groups.

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