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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) Improvements in basket efficacy across chains in the four treatments (Asocial: open squares; Emulation: open triangles; Imitation: solid circles; Teaching: crosses). Points are means ± S.E. from raw data. (b) Probability of basket breakage across the four treatments (A: Asocial; E: Emulation; I: Imitation; T: Teaching). Bars show means ± S.E.
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f2: (a) Improvements in basket efficacy across chains in the four treatments (Asocial: open squares; Emulation: open triangles; Imitation: solid circles; Teaching: crosses). Points are means ± S.E. from raw data. (b) Probability of basket breakage across the four treatments (A: Asocial; E: Emulation; I: Imitation; T: Teaching). Bars show means ± S.E.

Mentions: All four treatments showed similar improvements along chains. LMM analysis showed that the mass of rice increased across generations (F1, 199 = 49.24, p < 0.001; Fig. 2a; response variable normalized for analyses with a square root transformation), but there were no significant differences between treatments (F2, 36 = 2.51, p = 0.074; treatment*generation: F2, 196 = 2.03, p = 0.112). The number of materials used to build baskets had no effect on their efficacy (F1, 217 = 0.00, p = 0.992).


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

Zwirner E, Thornton A - Sci Rep (2015)

(a) Improvements in basket efficacy across chains in the four treatments (Asocial: open squares; Emulation: open triangles; Imitation: solid circles; Teaching: crosses). Points are means ± S.E. from raw data. (b) Probability of basket breakage across the four treatments (A: Asocial; E: Emulation; I: Imitation; T: Teaching). Bars show means ± S.E.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

f2: (a) Improvements in basket efficacy across chains in the four treatments (Asocial: open squares; Emulation: open triangles; Imitation: solid circles; Teaching: crosses). Points are means ± S.E. from raw data. (b) Probability of basket breakage across the four treatments (A: Asocial; E: Emulation; I: Imitation; T: Teaching). Bars show means ± S.E.
Mentions: All four treatments showed similar improvements along chains. LMM analysis showed that the mass of rice increased across generations (F1, 199 = 49.24, p < 0.001; Fig. 2a; response variable normalized for analyses with a square root transformation), but there were no significant differences between treatments (F2, 36 = 2.51, p = 0.074; treatment*generation: F2, 196 = 2.03, p = 0.112). The number of materials used to build baskets had no effect on their efficacy (F1, 217 = 0.00, p = 0.992).

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