A formal analysis of cultural evolution by replacement

A formal analysis of cultural evolution by replacement - A...

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A formal analysis of cultural evolution by replacement Jing Xu ([email protected]) Florencia Reali ([email protected]) Thomas L. Griffiths (tom [email protected]) Department of Psychology, 3210 Tolman Hall Berkeley, CA 94720 USA Abstract Social psychologists have used the replacement method to sim- ulate cultural evolution in the laboratory, studying what hap- pens when a group of people performing a task are gradually replaced by new members. We provide a formal analysis of the dynamics of cultural evolution by replacement under the assumption that the people involved are Bayesian agents. We use a connection to a statistical inference algorithm – Gibbs sampling – to characterize the outcome of this process, and show that this analysis can account for both laboratory data and population-level trends resulting from cultural transmission. Keywords: cultural evolution; cultural transmission; replace- ment; Gibbs sampling; The science of cultural evolution studies the origin, per- sistence, and change of the body of information shared by the members of a society, such as knowledge, beliefs, and norms. Research in this field has traditionally been done by anthropologists and sociologists, although there is a long tradition in social psychology of reproducing processes of cultural evolution in the laboratory (Mesoudi, 2007). Re- cently, researchers have begun to apply methods developed in research on biological evolution to the study of cultural change (Mesoudi, Whiten, & Laland, 2006; Boyd & Richer- son, 1985). In particular, mathematical models and computer simulations have proven to be powerful tools that can be used to uncover the dynamics of cultural evolution. For exam- ple, Bentley, Hahn, and Shennan (2004) argued that a random genetic drift model can be used to explain cultural phenom- ena in changes of baby names, prehistoric pottery styles and technology patents. However, there is still a significant gap between these formal models, which are applied at the level of whole populations, and the data that has been produced through the experimental investigation of cultural transmis- sion. In this paper, we formally analyze one of the methods that has been used to simulate cultural transmission in the laboratory, and show that the resulting model can account for both experimental data and trends at the population level. Social psychologists have studied cultural evolution us- ing several strictly controlled laboratory paradigms, such as transmission chains, the replacement method, and the con- stant group method (Mesoudi, 2007). Transmission chains were originally used by Bartlett (1932) in his “serial repro- duction” experiments. In these experiments, people were asked to reconstruct a stimulus from memory and the recon- structions produced by one person was used as the stimulus seen by the next. Over time, the original stimulus became distorted. Bartlett interpreted these results as indicating that people are biased by their pre-existing knowledge when they
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A formal analysis of cultural evolution by replacement - A...

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