Cultural evolution

  • Article
    | Open Access

    Many species learn through social transmission, which can alter co-evolutionary selection pressures. Experiments involving artificial prey and social networks show that wild birds can learn about unpalatable food by watching others, which helps explain the persistence of costly prey defences despite influxes of naïve juvenile predators.

    • Liisa Hämäläinen
    • , William Hoppitt
    •  & Rose Thorogood
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Studying how songbirds learn songs can shed light on the development of human speech. An analysis of 160 tutor-pupil zebra finch pairs suggests that frequency dependent balanced imitation prevents the extinction of rare song elements and the overabundance of common ones, promoting song diversity within groups and species recognition across groups.

    • Ofer Tchernichovski
    • , Sophie Eisenberg-Edidin
    •  & Erich D. Jarvis
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Category systems exhibit striking agreement across many cultures, yet paradoxically individuals exhibit large variation in the categorization of novel stimuli. Here the authors show that critical mass dynamics explain the convergence of independent populations on shared category systems.

    • Douglas Guilbeault
    • , Andrea Baronchelli
    •  & Damon Centola
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Environmental variability is one potential driver of behavioural and cultural diversity in humans and other animals. Here, the authors show that chimpanzee behavioural diversity is higher in habitats that are more seasonal and historically unstable, and in savannah woodland relative to forested sites.

    • Ammie K. Kalan
    • , Lars Kulik
    •  & Hjalmar S. Kühl
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Humankind is in a period of unprecedented cognitive sophistication as well as globalization. Here, using an evolutionary game theory model, the authors reveal ways in which the transition from local to global interaction can have both positive and potentially negative consequences for the prevalence of cognitive sophistication in the population.

    • Mohsen Mosleh
    • , Katelynn Kyker
    •  & David G. Rand
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The Seshat database has made it possible to reveal large-scale patterns in human cultural evolution. Here, Shin et al. investigate transitions in social complexity and find alternating thresholds of polity size and information processing required for further sociopolitical development.

    • Jaeweon Shin
    • , Michael Holton Price
    •  & Timothy A. Kohler
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Cleaner fish can cheat clients for higher rewards but this comes with a risk of punishment. Here, Truskanov et al. show that juvenile cleaner fish can learn by observing adults to behave more cooperatively themselves but also to prefer clients that are more tolerant to cheating.

    • Noa Truskanov
    • , Yasmin Emery
    •  & Redouan Bshary
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The authors here show that readiness to cooperate between individuals from different groups corresponds to the degree of cultural similarity between those groups. This is consistent with the theory of Cultural Group Selection as an explanation for the rise of human large-scale cooperation.

    • Carla Handley
    •  & Sarah Mathew
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Learning can involve the integration of individual and social information but disentangling these is challenging. Here, Canteloup and colleagues investigate social learning dynamics and transmission biases in wild vervet monkeys and how social information influences further asocial learning.

    • Charlotte Canteloup
    • , William Hoppitt
    •  & Erica van de Waal
  • Review Article
    | Open Access

    The reciprocal interaction between genetic and cultural evolution is well recognised in humans. Here, Whitehead and colleagues review the growing body of evidence that culture is also a major driver of both neutral and adaptive genetic evolution in non-human animals.

    • Hal Whitehead
    • , Kevin N. Laland
    •  & Andrew Whiten
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Sexual selection is expected to be intensified in non-monogamous mating systems; in birds this might accelerate song evolution. Here, the authors show that across songbirds, polygyny and extra-pair paternity are associated with faster syllable repertoire size evolution and smaller repertoire size, respectively.

    • Kate T. Snyder
    •  & Nicole Creanza
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Group membership can inform individuals’ decisions on whether to cooperate. Here, the authors show how cooperative groups themselves can emerge and change due to use of reputation heuristics (such as “the enemy of a friend is an enemy”), and how this destabilizes cooperation over time.

    • Jörg Gross
    •  & Carsten K. W. De Dreu
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Reducing the adverse effects of climate change triggered by human activity requires cooperation on a global scale. Modelling this challenge as an evolutionary game shows that the emerging contributions of selfish players depend strongly on the risk scenario at stake.

    • Maria Abou Chakra
    • , Silke Bumann
    •  & Arne Traulsen
  • Article
    | Open Access

    ‘Conformist bias’, in which individuals learn a common behavioural variant more often than expected by chance, has not been demonstrated convincingly in non-human animals. This study analyses song recordings and models of cultural evolution to show conformist bias in swamp sparrow populations.

    • Robert F. Lachlan
    • , Oliver Ratmann
    •  & Stephen Nowicki
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The cumulative development of culture has proven difficult to study in the laboratory. Here, the authors examine entries to a series of large programming contests to show that successful entries are usually ‘tweaks’ of existing solutions, but occasional ‘leaps’ can bring larger benefits.

    • Elena Miu
    • , Ned Gulley
    •  & Luke Rendell
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Social learning is a crucial human ability. Here, the authors examined children in 7 cultures and show that children’s reliance on social information and their preference to follow the majority vary across societies. However, the ontogeny of majority preference follows the same, U-shaped pattern across all societies.

    • Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen
    • , Emma Cohen
    •  & Daniel B. M. Haun
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Cross-cultural interactions can cause cultural change, a process known as acculturation. Here, Erten et al. develop a model of cultural change under immigration, considering individuals’ orientations towards acculturation, and find that willingness to interact cross-culturally and resident cultural conservatism favour cultural coexistence.

    • E. Yagmur Erten
    • , Pieter van den Berg
    •  & Franz J. Weissing
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Storytelling entails costs in terms of time and effort, yet it is a ubiquitous feature of human society. Here, Smith et al. show benefits of storytelling in Agta hunter-gatherer communities, as storytellers have higher reproductive success and storytelling is associated with higher cooperation in the group.

    • Daniel Smith
    • , Philip Schlaepfer
    •  & Andrea Bamberg Migliano
  • Article
    | Open Access

    The replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans is thought to have been due to environmental factors, a selective advantage of modern humans, or both. Here, Kolodny and Feldman develop a neutral model of species drift showing that rapid Neanderthal replacement can be explained parsimoniously by simple migration dynamics.

    • Oren Kolodny
    •  & Marcus W. Feldman
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Punishment by peers can enforce social norms, such as contributing to a public good. Here, Abbink and colleagues show that individuals will enforce norms even when contributions reduce the net benefit of the group, resulting in the maintenance of wasteful contributions.

    • Klaus Abbink
    • , Lata Gangadharan
    •  & John Thrasher
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Previous studies have disagreed over whether efficient or inefficient network structures should be more effective in promoting group performance. Here, Barkoczi and Galesic demonstrate that which structure is superior depends on the social learning strategy used by individuals in the network.

    • Daniel Barkoczi
    •  & Mirta Galesic
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Cooperation requires individuals to sacrifice individual rewards for group benefits. Here, Grimalda, Pondorfer and Tracer show in a foraging society of Papua New Guinea that social image building is a more powerful motivator of social cooperation than altruistic punishment.

    • Gianluca Grimalda
    • , Andreas Pondorfer
    •  & David P. Tracer
  • Article
    | Open Access

    Our understanding of how humans produce complex technologies is limited. Here, the authors use a computer-based experiment to show that the production of complex innovations results from a population process that relies on efficient social learning mechanisms and specific population structures.

    • Maxime Derex
    •  & Robert Boyd
  • Article |

    Oldowan stone tool-making might have influenced the evolution of human language and teaching. Here the authors show that transmission of Oldowan tool-making skills improves with teaching and language, suggesting that hominin reliance on stone tool-making generated selection for teaching and language.

    • T. J. H. Morgan
    • , N. T. Uomini
    •  & K. N. Laland
  • Article |

    Social learning is crucial to the evolutionary success of humans. Here, the authors evaluate social learning strategies in a sample of human subjects and find that some individuals imitate the behaviours of their most successful peers, while others conform to the behaviour of the majority.

    • Lucas Molleman
    • , Pieter van den Berg
    •  & Franz J. Weissing