Caldwell CA & Smith K (2012) Cultural Evolution and Perpetuation of Arbitrary Communicative Conventions in Experimental Microsocieties. PLoS ONE, 7 (8), p. e43807. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0043807; https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0043807
Previous studies have shown that iconic graphical signs can evolve into symbols through repeated usage within dyads and interacting communities. Here we investigate the evolution of graphical signs over chains of participants. In these chains (or "replacement microsocieties"), membership of an interacting group changed repeatedly such that the most experienced members were continually replaced by naive participants. Signs rapidly became symbolic, such that they were mutually incomprehensible across experienced members of different chains, and new entrants needed to learn conventionalised meanings. An objective measure of graphical complexity (perimetric complexity) showed that the signs used within the microsocieties were becoming progressively simplified over successive usage. This is the first study to show that the signs that evolve in graphical communication experiments can be transmitted to, and spontaneously adopted by, naive participants. This provides critical support for the view that human communicative symbols could have evolved culturally from iconic representations.
PLoS ONE: Volume 7, Issue 8