Social network architecture and the tempo of cumulative cultural evolution

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The ability to build upon previous knowledge - cumulative cultural evolution - is a hallmark of human societies. While cumulative cultural evolution depends on the interaction between social systems, cognition and the environment, there is increasing evidence that cumulative cultural evolution is facilitated by larger and more structured societies. However, such effects may be interlinked with patterns of social wiring, thus the relative importance of social network architecture as an additional factor shaping cumulative cultural evolution remains unclear. By simulating innovation and diffusion of cultural traits in populations with stereotyped social structures, we disentangle the relative contributions of network architecture from those of population size and connectivity. We demonstrate that while more structured networks, such as those found in multilevel societies, can promote the recombination of cultural traits into high-value products, they also hinder spread and make products more likely to go extinct. We find that transmission mechanisms are therefore critical in determining the outcomes of cumulative cultural evolution. Our results highlight the complex interaction between population size, structure and transmission mechanisms, with important implications for future research.




Cantor, M., Chimento, M., Smeele, S. Q., He, P., Papageorgiou, D., Aplin, L. M., & Farine, D. R. (2021). Social network architecture and the tempo of cumulative cultural evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288(1946).

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