Divide and conquer

Intermediate levels of population fragmentation maximize cultural accumulation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Identifying the determinants of cumulative cultural evolution is a key issue in the interdisciplinary field of cultural evolution. A widely held view is that large and well-connected social networks facilitate cumulative cultural evolution because they promote the spread of useful cultural traits and prevent the loss of cultural knowledge through factors such as drift. This view stems from models that focus on the transmission of cultural information, without considering how new cultural traits actually arise. In this paper, we review the literature from various fields that suggest that, under some circumstances, increased connectedness can decrease cultural diversity and reduce innovation rates. Incorporating this idea into an agent-based model, we explore the effect of population fragmentation on cumulative culture and show that, for a given population size, there exists an intermediate level of population fragmentation that maximizes the rate of cumulative cultural evolution. This result is explained by the fact that fully connected, non-fragmented populations are able to maintain complex cultural traits but produce insufficient variation and so lack the cultural diversity required to produce highly complex cultural traits. Conversely, highly fragmented populations produce a variety of cultural traits but cannot maintain complex ones. In populations with intermediate levels of fragmentation, cultural loss and cultural diversity are balanced in a way that maximizes cultural complexity. Our results suggest that population structure needs to be taken into account when investigating the relationship between demography and cumulative culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20170062
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume373
Issue number1743
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 5 2018

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Cultural Evolution
fragmentation
multicultural diversity
Cultural Diversity
Population
Innovation
social network
demography
social networks
population structure
population size
innovation
Population Density
Social Support
Demography
stems
loss
rate

Keywords

  • Cultural convergence
  • Cultural homogenization
  • Innovation
  • Population structure
  • Social learning
  • Technological trajectory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

Cite this

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abstract = "Identifying the determinants of cumulative cultural evolution is a key issue in the interdisciplinary field of cultural evolution. A widely held view is that large and well-connected social networks facilitate cumulative cultural evolution because they promote the spread of useful cultural traits and prevent the loss of cultural knowledge through factors such as drift. This view stems from models that focus on the transmission of cultural information, without considering how new cultural traits actually arise. In this paper, we review the literature from various fields that suggest that, under some circumstances, increased connectedness can decrease cultural diversity and reduce innovation rates. Incorporating this idea into an agent-based model, we explore the effect of population fragmentation on cumulative culture and show that, for a given population size, there exists an intermediate level of population fragmentation that maximizes the rate of cumulative cultural evolution. This result is explained by the fact that fully connected, non-fragmented populations are able to maintain complex cultural traits but produce insufficient variation and so lack the cultural diversity required to produce highly complex cultural traits. Conversely, highly fragmented populations produce a variety of cultural traits but cannot maintain complex ones. In populations with intermediate levels of fragmentation, cultural loss and cultural diversity are balanced in a way that maximizes cultural complexity. Our results suggest that population structure needs to be taken into account when investigating the relationship between demography and cumulative culture.",
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