Many cultural phenomena evolve through a Darwinian process whereby adaptive variants are selected and spread at the expense of competing variants. While cultural evolutionary theory emphasises the importance of social learning to this process, experimental studies indicate that people’s dominant response is to maintain their prior behaviour. In addition, while payoff-biased learning is crucial to Darwinian cultural evolution, learner behaviour is not always guided by variant payoffs. Here, we use agent-based modelling to investigate the role of maintenance in Darwinian cultural evolution. We vary the degree to which learner behaviour is payoff-biased (i.e., based on critical evaluation of variant payoffs), and compare three uncritical (non-payoff-biased) strategies that are used alongside payoff-biased learning: copying others, innovating new variants, and maintaining prior variants. In line with previous research, we show that some level of payoff-biased learning is crucial for populations to converge on adaptive cultural variants. Importantly, when combined with payoff-biased learning, uncritical maintenance leads to stronger population-level adaptation than uncritical copying or innovation, highlighting the importance of maintenance to cultural selection. This advantage of maintenance as a default learning strategy may help explain why it is a common human behaviour.
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