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Studying cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory

Caldwell CA & Millen A (2008) Studying cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory, 363 (1509), pp. 3529-3539.

Cumulative cultural evolution is the term given to a particular kind of social learning, which allows for the accumulation of modifications over time, involving a ratchet-like effect where successful modifications are maintained until they can be improved upon. There has been great interest in the topic of cumulative cultural evolution from researchers from a wide variety of disciplines, but until recently there were no experimental studies of this phenomenon. Here we describe our motivations for developing experimental methods for studying cumulative cultural evolution, and review results we have obtained using these techniques. The results that we describe have provided insights into understanding the outcomes of cultural processes at the population level. Our experiments show that cumulative cultural evolution can result in adaptive complexity in behaviour, and also can also produce convergence in behaviour. These findings lend support to ideas that some behaviours commonly attributed to natural selection and innate tendencies could in fact be shaped by cultural processes.

social learning; culture; cultural evolution

Subject headings
social change; human evolution; social evolution

AuthorsCaldwell Christine Anna, Millen Ailsa
Publication date11/2008
PublisherThe Royal Society

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society b Biological Sciences: Volume 363, Issue 1509 (2008-11)

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