Friday, November 27, 2009

Openness versus conservatism - its cultural evolution

Acerbi et al. ask what might make different groups of people more liberal or conservative (or open minded versus having inflexible views), and develop a model which shows that cultural evolution can maintain openness to new information as well as effectiveness at cultural transmission. They consider how rules of cultural transmission can be modified by social learning. For example, individuals might learn from others whether or not to rely on social information. Their model predicts smaller societies to be more conservative, which agrees with the observation that traditional societies (whose very name implies conservatism) tend to be small. It is consistent with archaeological evidence showing that large cultural repertoires can be maintained only by large groups.
We present a model of cultural evolution in which an individual's propensity to engage in social learning is affected by social learning itself. We assume that individuals observe cultural traits displayed by others and decide whether to copy them based on their overall preference for the displayed traits. Preferences, too, can be transmitted between individuals. Our results show that such cultural dynamics tends to produce conservative individuals, i.e., individuals who are reluctant to copy new traits. Openness to new information, however, can be maintained when individuals need significant time to acquire the cultural traits that make them effective cultural models. We show that a gradual enculturation of young individuals by many models and a larger cultural repertoire to be acquired are favorable circumstances for the long-term maintenance of openness in individuals and groups. Our results agree with data about lifetime personality change, showing that openness to new information decreases with age. Our results show that cultural remodeling of cultural transmission is a powerful force in cultural evolution, i.e., that cultural evolution can change its own dynamics.

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