Title: The Evolution of Culture
Abstract: Both demographically and ecologically, humans are a remarkably successful species, and this success is generally attributed to our capacity for culture. But how did our species’ extraordinary cultural capabilities evolve? In this talk I will provide a provisional answer. I will describe the findings of an international competition (the ‘social learning strategies tournament’) which sheds light on why copying is widespread in nature, and why humans happen to be so good at it. I will go on to describe some other theoretical and experimental projects suggesting feedback mechanisms that may have been instrumental to the evolution of culture. These include a comparative statistical analysis across primates that revealed that innovation and social learning frequencies co-vary positively with relative brain size, a mathematical model of the evolution of teaching, and an experimental study of the cognitive underpinnings of cumulative culture, in children, chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys.