Evaluating the relative contributions of copying and reconstruction processes in cultural transmission episodes

Nielsen, Mark, Strachan, James W. A., Curioni, Arianna, Constable, Merryn D., Knoblich, Günther and Charbonneau, Mathieu (2021) Evaluating the relative contributions of copying and reconstruction processes in cultural transmission episodes. PLoS ONE, 16 (9). e0256901. ISSN 1932-6203

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256901


The ability to transmit information between individuals through social learning is a foundational component of cultural evolution. However, how this transmission occurs is still debated. On the one hand, the copying account draws parallels with biological mechanisms for genetic inheritance, arguing that learners copy what they observe and novel variations occur through random copying errors. On the other hand, the reconstruction account claims that, rather than directly copying behaviour, learners reconstruct the information that they believe to be most relevant on the basis of pragmatic inference, environmental and contextual cues. Distinguishing these two accounts empirically is difficult based on data from typical transmission chain studies because the predictions they generate frequently overlap. In this study we present a methodological approach that generates different predictions of these accounts by manipulating the task context between model and learner in a transmission episode. We then report an empirical proof-of-concept that applies this approach. The results show that, when a model introduces context-dependent embedded signals to their actions that are not intended to be transmitted, it is possible to empirically distinguish between competing predictions made by these two accounts. Our approach can therefore serve to understand the underlying cognitive mechanisms at play in cultural transmission and can make important contributions to the debate between preservative and reconstructive schools of thought.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Funding information: This work was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement no. 609819, SOMICS (https://erc.europa.eu/ Awarded to G.K). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Subjects: C800 Psychology
L900 Others in Social studies
X900 Others in Education
Department: Faculties > Health and Life Sciences > Psychology
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 17 Sep 2021 09:06
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2021 09:53
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/47236

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