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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 Apr 12;366(1567):1118-28. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0376.

How copying affects the amount, evenness and persistence of cultural knowledge: insights from the social learning strategies tournament.

Author information

1
Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, School of Biology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, UK. ler4@st-andrews.ac.uk

Abstract

Darwinian processes should favour those individuals that deploy the most effective strategies for acquiring information about their environment. We organized a computer-based tournament to investigate which learning strategies would perform well in a changing environment. The most successful strategies relied almost exclusively on social learning (here, learning a behaviour performed by another individual) rather than asocial learning, even when environments were changing rapidly; moreover, successful strategies focused learning effort on periods of environmental change. Here, we use data from tournament simulations to examine how these strategies might affect cultural evolution, as reflected in the amount of culture (i.e. number of cultural traits) in the population, the distribution of cultural traits across individuals, and their persistence through time. We found that high levels of social learning are associated with a larger amount of more persistent knowledge, but a smaller amount of less persistent expressed behaviour, as well as more uneven distributions of behaviour, as individuals concentrated on exploiting a smaller subset of behaviour patterns. Increased rates of environmental change generated increases in the amount and evenness of behaviour. These observations suggest that copying confers on cultural populations an adaptive plasticity, allowing them to respond to changing environments rapidly by drawing on a wider knowledge base.

PMID:
21357234
PMCID:
PMC3049108
DOI:
10.1098/rstb.2010.0376
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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