Caldwell CA & Eve R (2014) Persistence of contrasting traditions in cultural evolution: Unpredictable payoffs generate slower rates of cultural change. PLoS ONE, 9 (6), Art. No.: e99708. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0099708
We report an experimental test of the hypothesis that contrasting traditions will persist for longer, maintaining cultural differences between otherwise similar groups, under conditions of uncertainty about payoffs from individual learning. We studied the persistence of two alternative, experimentally-introduced, task solutions in chains of human participants. In some chains, participants were led to believe that final payoffs would be difficult to predict for an innovative solution, and in others, participants were aware that their final payoff would be directly linked to their immediate solution. Although the difference between the conditions was illusory (only participants' impressions were manipulated, not actual payoffs) clear differences were found between the conditions. Consistent with predictions, in the chains that were less certain about final payoffs, the distinctive variants endured over several replacement "generations" of participants. In contrast, in the other chains, the influence of the experimentally-introduced solutions was rapidly diluted by participants' exploration of alternative approaches. The finding provides support for the notion that rates of cultural change are likely to be slower for behaviors for which the relationship between performance and payoff may be hard to predict.
PLoS ONE: Volume 9, Issue 6