Applying the cultural ratchet to a social artefact: The cumulative cultural evolution of a language game

Fay, N., Ellison, T. M., Tylén, K., Fusaroli, R., Walker, B. and Garrod, S. (2018) Applying the cultural ratchet to a social artefact: The cumulative cultural evolution of a language game. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39(3), pp. 300-309. (doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2018.02.002)

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Abstract

Material artefacts evolve by cumulative cultural evolution (CCE), the accumulation of adaptive modifications over time. We present a large-scale experiment investigating the CCE of a social artefact in transmission chains, each containing 8 adult human participants (N = 408). The social artefact is what Wittgenstein calls a ‘language game’, the subset of language used to perform a particular activity; in the present study the language game is to communicate a route on a map. Two social learning conditions were compared: Observational Learning and Social Coordinative Learning. Participants tried to accurately communicate a route on a map to the next person in their transmission chain. Over the experimental generations the routes were reproduced with progressively higher accuracy in both conditions, demonstrating the CCE of the language game. The rate of CCE was comparable across conditions, but route reproduction accuracy was consistently higher in the Social Coordination condition compared to the Observation condition. In both conditions performance improved due to the accumulation of adaptive patterns of verbal route descriptions, and the progressive elimination of non-adaptive patterns. Whereas change in the content of the language game was similar across conditions, change to the communication process differed between the Observation and Social Coordination conditions. In conclusion, like material artefacts, social artefacts, in our case the language game, evolve by cumulative cultural evolution.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Garrod, Professor Simon and Fay, Dr Nicolas
Authors: Fay, N., Ellison, T. M., Tylén, K., Fusaroli, R., Walker, B., and Garrod, S.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology
Journal Name:Evolution and Human Behavior
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:1090-5138
ISSN (Online):1879-0607
Published Online:15 February 2018
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2018 Elsevier
First Published:First published in Evolution and Human Behavior 39(3):300-309
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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