Divide and conquer: Intermediate levels of population fragmentation maximize cultural accumulation

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    7 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

    Fingerprint

    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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    title = "Divide and conquer: Intermediate levels of population fragmentation maximize cultural accumulation",
    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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