Biased transformation erases traditions sustained by conformist transmission: Biases erase cultural traditions

Thomas J.H. Morgan, Bill Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Conformist transmission is a cognitively simple decision-making process by which observers are disproportionately likely to follow the majority. It has been studied in multiple species because theory suggests it can create stable cultural variation. However, the current theory assumes that while conformist transmission favours the majority, it is otherwise unbiased and does not systematically transform information, even though such biases are widely documented. Here, we relax this assumption, requiring conformist observers to infer the size of the majority from finite observations of their group mates. Because such inference can be subject to bias, it can lead to the biased transformation of transmitted information. We find that when individuals are biased (even weakly) the capacity of conformist transmission to sustain traditions is reduced and, in many cases, removed entirely. This suggests that the emphasis on conformist transmission as a source of stable cultural variation may be misplaced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20200660
JournalBiology letters
Volume16
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • conformist transmission
  • conformity
  • cultural variation
  • traditions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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