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Cognitive requirements of cumulative culture: teaching is useful but not essential.

Zwirner E, Thornton A - Sci Rep (2015)

Bottom Line: 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.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.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, TR10 9FE, UK.

ABSTRACT
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.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus

(a) Experimental design for Asocial treatment. Each participant built six baskets in succession (A–F; rounds of building indicated by grey cells; time given in minutes). At each round of building, up to two of the participant’s previous baskets were left on display. (b,c) Experimental design in the three transmission chain treatments. Participants (from 1 to 6) are engaged in different roles (identified by shadings) in particular time windows. Grey cells represent participants engaged in building. White cells represent (b) participants’ baskets on display in Emulation chains or previous participants teaching builders in Teaching chains; (c) participants observing builders in Imitation chains.
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f1: (a) Experimental design for Asocial treatment. Each participant built six baskets in succession (A–F; rounds of building indicated by grey cells; time given in minutes). At each round of building, up to two of the participant’s previous baskets were left on display. (b,c) Experimental design in the three transmission chain treatments. Participants (from 1 to 6) are engaged in different roles (identified by shadings) in particular time windows. Grey cells represent participants engaged in building. White cells represent (b) participants’ baskets on display in Emulation chains or previous participants teaching builders in Teaching chains; (c) participants observing builders in Imitation chains.

Mentions: Before starting the experiment, all participants were given written and spoken instructions relevant to their allocated treatment group. The experimental procedures for the four treatments are shown in Fig. 1. Participants in Asocial treatments were instructed to build and test six baskets in succession without communicating with or observing others building or testing baskets. Up to two of the participant’s previous baskets were left on display at each new round of basket building (Fig. 1a).


Cognitive requirements of cumulative culture: teaching is useful but not essential.

Zwirner E, Thornton A - Sci Rep (2015)

(a) Experimental design for Asocial treatment. Each participant built six baskets in succession (A–F; rounds of building indicated by grey cells; time given in minutes). At each round of building, up to two of the participant’s previous baskets were left on display. (b,c) Experimental design in the three transmission chain treatments. Participants (from 1 to 6) are engaged in different roles (identified by shadings) in particular time windows. Grey cells represent participants engaged in building. White cells represent (b) participants’ baskets on display in Emulation chains or previous participants teaching builders in Teaching chains; (c) participants observing builders in Imitation chains.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4660383&req=5

f1: (a) Experimental design for Asocial treatment. Each participant built six baskets in succession (A–F; rounds of building indicated by grey cells; time given in minutes). At each round of building, up to two of the participant’s previous baskets were left on display. (b,c) Experimental design in the three transmission chain treatments. Participants (from 1 to 6) are engaged in different roles (identified by shadings) in particular time windows. Grey cells represent participants engaged in building. White cells represent (b) participants’ baskets on display in Emulation chains or previous participants teaching builders in Teaching chains; (c) participants observing builders in Imitation chains.
Mentions: Before starting the experiment, all participants were given written and spoken instructions relevant to their allocated treatment group. The experimental procedures for the four treatments are shown in Fig. 1. Participants in Asocial treatments were instructed to build and test six baskets in succession without communicating with or observing others building or testing baskets. Up to two of the participant’s previous baskets were left on display at each new round of basket building (Fig. 1a).

Bottom Line: 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.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.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, TR10 9FE, UK.

ABSTRACT
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.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus