Identifying innovation in laboratory studies of cultural evolution: rates of retention and measures of adaptation



Caldwell CA, Cornish H & Kandler A (2016) Identifying innovation in laboratory studies of cultural evolution: rates of retention and measures of adaptation. Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences, 371 (1690), Art. No.: 20150193.

In recent years, laboratory studies of cultural evolution have become increasingly prevalent as a means of identifying and understanding the effects of cultural transmission on the form and functionality of transmitted material. The data sets generated by these studies may provide insights into the conditions encouraging, or inhibiting, high rates of innovation, as well as the effect that this has on measures of adaptive cultural change. Here we review recent experimental studies of cultural evolution with a view to elucidating the role of innovation in generating observed trends. We first consider how tasks are presented to participants, and how the corresponding conceptualisation of task success is likely to influence the degree of intent underlying any deviations from perfect reproduction. We then consider the measures of interest used by the researchers to track the changes that occur as a result of transmission, and how these are likely to be affected by differing rates of retention. We conclude that considering studies of cultural evolution from the perspective of innovation provides valuable insights which help to clarify important differences in research designs, which have implications for the likely effects of variation in retention rates on measures of cultural adaptation

cultural evolution; iterated learning; microsociety; social learning; transmission chain

Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences: Volume 371, Issue 1690

FundersEuropean Commission
Publication date31/03/2016
Date accepted by journal09/12/2015
PublisherThe Royal Society

People (1)


Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor & Deputy Dean of Faculty, Psychology

Projects (1)