Culture: Copying, compression, and conventionality

Mónica Tamariz, Simon Kirby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Through cultural transmission, repeated learning by new individuals transforms cultural information, which tends to become increasingly compressible (Kirby, Cornish, & Smith, ; Smith, Tamariz, & Kirby, ). Existing diffusion chain studies include in their design two processes that could be responsible for this tendency: learning (storing patterns in memory) and reproducing (producing the patterns again). This paper manipulates the presence of learning in a simple iterated drawing design experiment. We find that learning seems to be the causal factor behind the increase in compressibility observed in the transmitted information, while reproducing is a source of random heritable innovations. Only a theory invoking these two aspects of cultural learning will be able to explain human culture's fundamental balance between stability and innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171–183
JournalCognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal
Issue number1
Early online date11 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • cultural transmission
  • iterated learning
  • conventionality
  • compressibility
  • imitation


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