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Appears in Collections:Psychology Journal Articles
Peer Review Status: Refereed
Title: Experimental models for testing hypotheses about cumulative cultural evolution
Author(s): Caldwell, Christine Anna
Millen, Ailsa E.
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Keywords: social learning
cultural evolution
Issue Date: May-2008
Citation: Caldwell CA & Millen AE (2008) Experimental models for testing hypotheses about cumulative cultural evolution, Evolution and Human Behavior, 29 (3), pp. 165-171.
Abstract: The rapid appearance (over evolutionary time) of the cognitive skills and complex inventions of modern humans has been attributed to “cumulative cultural evolution” (henceforth CCE), the accumulation of knowledge and skills over generations. To date, researchers have only been able to speculate about the reasons for the apparent absence of this phenomenon in nonhumans, and it has not been possible to test hypotheses regarding the mechanisms underlying it. Here we show that it is possible to demonstrate CCE under laboratory conditions, by simulating generational succession through the repeated removal and replacement of human participants within experimental groups. We created “microsocieties” in which participants were instructed to complete simple tasks using everyday materials. In one of our procedures, participants were instructed to build a paper aeroplane which flew as far as possible, and in the other, they were instructed to construct a tower of spaghetti which was as tall as possible. We show that, in both cases, information accumulates within the groups such that later generations produce designs which are more successful than earlier ones. These methods offer researchers a window to understanding CCE, allowing for experimental manipulation and hypothesis testing.
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Rights: Published in Evolution and Human Behavior by Elsevier.

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