Culture: Copying, Compression and Conventionality

Monica Tamariz, Simon Kirby

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    69 Citations (Scopus)


    Through cultural transmission, repeated learning by new individuals transforms cultural infor-mation, which tends to become increasingly compressible (Kirby, Cornish, & Smith, 2008; Smith,Tamariz, & Kirby, 2013). Existing diffusion chain studies include in their desi gn two processesthat could be responsible for this tendency: learning (storing patterns in memory) and reproducing(producing the patterns again). This paper manipulates the presence of learning in a simple iter-ated drawing design experiment. We find that learning seems to be the causal factor behind theincrease in compressibility observed in the transmitted information, while reproducing is a sourceof random heritable innovations. Only a theo ry invoking these two aspects of cultural learning willbe able to explain human culture’s fundamental balance between stability and innovation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)171-183
    JournalCognitive Science
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


    • cultural transmission
    • iterated learning
    • conventionality
    • compressibility
    • imitation


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