Human Cumulative Culture in the Laboratory: Effects of (Micro) Population Size



Caldwell CA & Millen AE (2010) Human Cumulative Culture in the Laboratory: Effects of (Micro) Population Size. Learning and Behavior, 38 (3), pp. 310-318.

Traditionally, experiments on social learning (both in humans and nonhumans) involve dyads, with an experimenter or experimenter-trained conspecific serving as the demonstrator and the participant as the observer. But social learning in nature often involves multiple potential models, and the models themselves were once learners. We discuss our studies of social learning in adult humans in interactive group settings in the absence of formal demonstrations by experimenters, which track transmission over multiple learner generations. In these experiments we find evidence for cumulative learning over generations. This has allowed us to manipulate learning conditions in order to test hypotheses regarding the necessary conditions for cumulative culture. We also report results from a further experiment using similar methods, which compares conditions of varying cohort size. Participants were given the task to build a paper airplane to fly as far as possible. Contrary to expectations, there was no advantage for larger cohort sizes, in terms of the cumulative effects observed.

social learning; imitation; cumulative culture; culture; Culture Origin; Primates Behavior; Social behavior in animals

Learning and Behavior: Volume 38, Issue 3

Publication date31/12/2010
PublisherPsychonomic Society

People (2)


Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor & Deputy Dean of Faculty, Psychology

Dr Ailsa Millen

Dr Ailsa Millen

Lecturer in Psychology, Psychology