The evolution of cognitive mechanisms in response to cultural innovations.
ABSTRACT: When humans and other animals make cultural innovations, they also change their environment, thereby imposing new selective pressures that can modify their biological traits. For example, there is evidence that dairy farming by humans favored alleles for adult lactose tolerance. Similarly, the invention of cooking possibly affected the evolution of jaw and tooth morphology. However, when it comes to cognitive traits and learning mechanisms, it is much more difficult to determine whether and how their evolution was affected by culture or by their use in cultural transmission. Here we argue that, excluding very recent cultural innovations, the assumption that culture shaped the evolution of cognition is both more parsimonious and more productive than assuming the opposite. In considering how culture shapes cognition, we suggest that a process-level model of cognitive evolution is necessary and offer such a model. The model employs relatively simple coevolving mechanisms of learning and data acquisition that jointly construct a complex network of a type previously shown to be capable of supporting a range of cognitive abilities. The evolution of cognition, and thus the effect of culture on cognitive evolution, is captured through small modifications of these coevolving learning and data-acquisition mechanisms, whose coordinated action is critical for building an effective network. We use the model to show how these mechanisms are likely to evolve in response to cultural phenomena, such as language and tool-making, which are associated with major changes in data patterns and with new computational and statistical challenges.
Project description:Our species exhibits spectacular success due to cumulative culture. While cognitive evolution of social learning mechanisms may be partially responsible for adaptive human culture, features of early human social structure may also play a role by increasing the number potential models from which to learn innovations. We present interview data on interactions between same-sex adult dyads of Ache and Hadza hunter-gatherers living in multiple distinct residential bands (20 Ache bands; 42 Hadza bands; 1201 dyads) throughout a tribal home range. Results show high probabilities (5%-29% per year) of cultural and cooperative interactions between randomly chosen adults. Multiple regression suggests that ritual relationships increase interaction rates more than kinship, and that affinal kin interact more often than dyads with no relationship. These may be important features of human sociality. Finally, yearly interaction rates along with survival data allow us to estimate expected lifetime partners for a variety of social activities, and compare those to chimpanzees. Hadza and Ache men are estimated to observe over 300 men making tools in a lifetime, whereas male chimpanzees interact with only about 20 other males in a lifetime. High intergroup interaction rates in ancestral humans may have promoted the evolution of cumulative culture.
Project description:Culture pervades human life and is at the origin of the success of our species. A wide range of other animals have culture too, but often in a limited form that does not complexify through the gradual accumulation of innovations. We developed a new paradigm to study cultural evolution in primates in order to better evaluate our closest relatives' cultural capacities. Previous studies using transmission chain experimental paradigms, in which the behavioural output of one individual becomes the target behaviour for the next individual in the chain, show that cultural transmission can lead to the progressive emergence of systematically structured behaviours in humans. Inspired by this work, we combined a pattern reproduction task on touch screens with an iterated learning procedure to develop transmission chains of baboons (Papio papio). Using this procedure, we show that baboons can exhibit three fundamental aspects of human cultural evolution: a progressive increase in performance, the emergence of systematic structure and the presence of lineage specificity. Our results shed new light on human uniqueness: we share with our closest relatives essential capacities to produce human-like cultural evolution.
Project description:The cumulative nature of human culture is unique in the animal kingdom. Progressive improvements in tools and technologies have facilitated humanity's spread across the globe and shaped human evolution, but the cognitive mechanisms enabling cultural change remain unclear. Here we show that, contrary to theoretical predictions, cumulative improvements in tools are not dependent on specialised, high-fidelity social learning mechanisms. Participants were tasked with building a basket to carry as much rice as possible using a set of everyday materials and divided into treatment groups with differing opportunities to learn asocially, imitate, receive teaching or emulate by examining baskets made by previous chain members. Teaching chains produced more robust baskets, but neither teaching nor imitation were strictly necessary for cumulative improvements; emulation chains generated equivalent increases in efficacy despite exhibiting relatively low copying fidelity. People used social information strategically, choosing different materials to make their baskets if the previous basket in the chain performed poorly. Together, these results suggest that cumulative culture does not rest on high-fidelity social learning mechanisms alone. Instead, the roots of human cultural prowess may lie in the interplay of strategic social learning with other cognitive traits including the ability to reverse engineer artefacts through causal reasoning.
Project description:Borrowing from the concept of keystone species in ecological food webs, a recent focus in the field of animal behaviour has been keystone individuals: individuals whose impact on population dynamics is disproportionally larger than their frequency in the population. In populations evolving culture, such may be the role of high-magnitude innovators: individuals whose innovations are a major departure from the population's existing behavioural repertoire. Their effect on cultural evolution is twofold: they produce innovations that constitute a 'cultural leap' and, once copied, their innovations may induce further innovations by conspecifics (socially induced innovations) as they explore the new behaviour themselves. I use computer simulations to study the coevolution of independent innovations, socially induced innovations and innovation magnitude, and show that while socially induced innovation is assumed here to be less costly than independent innovation, it does not readily evolve. When it evolves, it may in some conditions select against independent innovation and lower its frequency, despite it requiring independent innovation in order to operate; at the same time, however, it leads to much faster cultural evolution. These results confirm the role of high-magnitude innovators as keystones, and suggest a novel explanation for the low frequency of independent innovation.This article is part of the theme issue 'Bridging cultural gaps: interdisciplinary studies in human cultural evolution'.
Project description:Like every other species, our species is the result of descent with modification under the influence of natural selection; a tip in an increasingly large and deep series of nested clades, as we trace its ancestry back to increasingly remote antecedents. As a consequence of shared history, our species has much in common with many others; as a consequence of its production by the general mechanisms of evolution, our species carries information about the mechanisms that shaped other species as well. For reasons unconnected to biological theory, we have far more information about humans than we do about other species. So in principle and in practice, humans should be usable as model organisms, and no one denies the truth of this for mundane physical traits, though harnessing human data for more general questions proves to be quite challenging. However, it is also true that human cognitive and behavioural characteristics, and human social groups, are apparently radically unlike those of other animals. Humans are exceptional products of evolution and perhaps that makes them an unsuitable model system for those interested in the evolution of cooperation, complex cognition, group formation, family structure, communication, cultural learning and the like. In all these respects, we are complex and extreme cases, perhaps shaped by mechanisms (like cultural evolution or group selection) that play little role in other lineages. Most of the papers in this special issue respond by rejecting or downplaying exceptionalism. I argue that it can be an advantage: understanding the human exception reveals constraints that have restricted evolutionary options in many lineages.
Project description:Cultural transmission facilitates the spread of behaviours within social groups and may lead to the establishment of stable traditions in both human and non-human animals. The fidelity of transmission is frequently emphasized as a core component of cultural evolution and as a prerequisite for cumulative culture. Fidelity is often considered a synonym of precise copying of observed behaviours. However, while precise copying guarantees reliable transmission in an ideal static world, it may be vulnerable to realistic variability in the actual environment. Here, we argue that fidelity may be more naturally achieved when the social learning mechanisms incorporate trial-and-error; and that the robustness of social transmission is thereby increased. We employed a simple model to demonstrate how culture that is produced through exact copying is fragile in an (even slightly) noisy world. When incorporating a certain degree of trial-and-error, however, cultures are more readily formed in a stochastic environment and are less vulnerable to rare ecological changes. We suggest that considering trial-and-error learning as a stabilizing component of social transmission may provide insights into cultural evolution in a realistic, variable, world.This article is part of the theme issue 'Bridging cultural gaps: interdisciplinary studies in human cultural evolution'.
Project description:The notion of animal culture, defined as socially transmitted community-specific behaviour patterns, remains controversial, notably because the definition relies on surface behaviours without addressing underlying cognitive processes. In contrast, human cultures are the product of socially acquired ideas that shape how individuals interact with their environment. We conducted field experiments with two culturally distinct chimpanzee communities in Uganda, which revealed significant differences in how individuals considered the affording parts of an experimentally provided tool to extract honey from a standardised cavity. Firstly, individuals of the two communities found different functional parts of the tool salient, suggesting that they experienced a cultural bias in their cognition. Secondly, when the alternative function was made more salient, chimpanzees were unable to learn it, suggesting that prior cultural background can interfere with new learning. Culture appears to shape how chimpanzees see the world, suggesting that a cognitive component underlies the observed behavioural patterns.
Project description:Innovative behaviour in animals, ranging from invertebrates to humans, is increasingly recognized as an important topic for investigation by behavioural researchers. However, what constitutes an innovation remains controversial, and difficult to quantify. Drawing on a broad definition whereby any behaviour with a new component to it is an innovation, we propose a quantitative measure, which we call the magnitude of innovation, to describe the extent to which an innovative behaviour is novel. This allows us to distinguish between innovations that are a slight change to existing behaviours (low magnitude), and innovations that are substantially different (high magnitude). Using mathematical modelling and evolutionary computer simulations, we explored how aspects of social interaction, cognition and natural selection affect the frequency and magnitude of innovation. We show that high-magnitude innovations are likely to arise regularly even if the frequency of innovation is low, as long as this frequency is relatively constant, and that the selectivity of social learning and the existence of social rewards, such as prestige and royalties, are crucial for innovative behaviour to evolve. We suggest that consideration of the magnitude of innovation may prove a useful tool in the study of the evolution of cognition and of culture.
Project description:The emergence of complex cultural practices in simple hunter-gatherer groups poses interesting questions on what drives social complexity and what causes the emergence and disappearance of cultural innovations. Here we analyze the conditions that underlie the emergence of artificial mummification in the Chinchorro culture in the coastal Atacama Desert in northern Chile and southern Peru. We provide empirical and theoretical evidence that artificial mummification appeared during a period of increased coastal freshwater availability and marine productivity, which caused an increase in human population size and accelerated the emergence of cultural innovations, as predicted by recent models of cultural and technological evolution. Under a scenario of increasing population size and extreme aridity (with little or no decomposition of corpses) a simple demographic model shows that dead individuals may have become a significant part of the landscape, creating the conditions for the manipulation of the dead that led to the emergence of complex mortuary practices.
Project description:A central debate in cognitive science concerns the nativist hypothesis, the proposal that universal features of behavior reflect a biologically determined cognitive substrate: For example, linguistic nativism proposes a domain-specific faculty of language that strongly constrains which languages can be learned. An evolutionary stance appears to provide support for linguistic nativism, because coordinated constraints on variation may facilitate communication and therefore be adaptive. However, language, like many other human behaviors, is underpinned by social learning and cultural transmission alongside biological evolution. We set out two models of these interactions, which show how culture can facilitate rapid biological adaptation yet rule out strong nativization. The amplifying effects of culture can allow weak cognitive biases to have significant population-level consequences, radically increasing the evolvability of weak, defeasible inductive biases; however, the emergence of a strong cultural universal does not imply, nor lead to, nor require, strong innate constraints. From this we must conclude, on evolutionary grounds, that the strong nativist hypothesis for language is false. More generally, because such reciprocal interactions between cultural and biological evolution are not limited to language, nativist explanations for many behaviors should be reconsidered: Evolutionary reasoning shows how we can have cognitively driven behavioral universals and yet extreme plasticity at the level of the individual-if, and only if, we account for the human capacity to transmit knowledge culturally. Wherever culture is involved, weak cognitive biases rather than strong innate constraints should be the default assumption.