February 18: Mark Atkinson


Inference, perspective taking, and cumulative cultural evolution

Mark Atkinson (University of Stirling)

Tuesday, February 18
11:00am – 12:30pm
G32, 7 George Square

Many human cultural traits become increasingly beneficial to their users as they are repeatedly transmitted, thanks to an accumulation of modifications made by successive generations. Learners typically modify the traits they observe in ways which make them more beneficial. But how do learners do this given that cumulative cultural evolution produces behaviours which are increasingly improbably as individual discoveries? And despite information bottlenecks which restrict the learner’s exposure to previously sampled behaviours?

I’ll present two investigations looking into how the effect of these bottlenecks can be mitigated. Firstly, in a series of experiments involving adult participants, we assess whether learners are (a) sensitive to cues of non-random production in the restricted information they observe, and (b) able to use those cues to infer and avoid other behaviours (behaviours the learner was not directly exposed to) which have already been sampled and rejected. Secondly, using adult participants, we assess the effect of the demonstrator intentionally selecting the restricted information to be observed by the learner. A follow up study with 5- to 10-year-old children then investigates how this intentional information sharing changes over development.