Nicolas Claidière
Laboratoire de psychologie cognitive
Aix-Marseille University, CNRS
13331 Marseille, France

Selected publications

Cultural evolution of systematically structured behaviour in a non-human primate

Results from the experiment with picture of baboon Article headingClaidière, N., Smith, K., Kirby, S., & Fagot, J. (2014). Cultural evolution of systematically structured behaviour in a non-human primate. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1797). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.1541

© Simon Kirby and Nicolas Claidière

Abstract: Culture pervades human life and is at the origin of the success of our species. A wide range of other animals have culture too, but often in a limited form that does not complexify through the gradual accumulation of innovations. We developed a new paradigm to study cultural evolution in primates in order to better evaluate our closest relatives’ cultural capacities. Previous studies using transmission chain experimental paradigms, in which the behavioural output of one individual becomes the target behaviour for the next individual in the chain, show that cultural transmission can lead to the progressive emergence of systematically structured behaviours in humans. Inspired by this work, we combined a pattern reproduction task on touch screens with an iterated learning procedure to develop transmission chains of baboons (Papio papio). Using this procedure, we show that baboons can exhibit three fundamental aspects of human cultural evolution: a progressive increase in performance, the emergence of systematic structure and the presence of lineage specificity. Our results shed new light on human uniqueness: we share with our closest relatives essential capacities to produce human-like cultural evolution.

In the media:
BBC News: Baboons may share human ability to build on work of others
Hufftington Post: The ‘Human’ Quality We Share With Baboons
In French:
Pour la Science: La culture cumulative n’est pas le propre de l’homme
Science et Avenir: Le babouin s’améliore de génération en génération
Radio Canada: La culture cumulative n’est pas unique à l’homme

Movie in French:

How Darwinian is cultural evolution?

article headingClaidière, N., Scott-Phillips, T. C., & Sperber, D. (2014). How Darwinian is cultural evolution? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369(1642). doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0368

Abstract: Darwin-inspired population thinking suggests approaching culture as a population of items of different types, whose relative frequencies may change over time. Three nested subtypes of populational models can be distinguished: evolutionary, selectional and replicative. Substantial progress has been made in the study of cultural evolution by modelling it within the selectional frame. This progress has involved idealizing away from phenomena that may be critical to an adequate understanding culture and cultural evolution, particularly the constructive aspect of the mechanisms of cultural transmission. Taking these aspects into account, we describe cultural evolution in terms of cultural attraction, which is populational and evolutionary, but only selectional under certain circumstances. As such, in order to model cultural evolution, we must not simply adjust existing replicative or selectional models, but we should rather generalize them, so that, just as replicator-based selection is one form that Darwinian selection can take, selection itself is one of several different forms that attraction can take. We present an elementary formalization of the idea of cultural attraction.

Diffusion Dynamics of Socially Learned Foraging Techniques in Squirrel Monkeys

Claidière, N., Messer, Emily J. E., Hoppitt, W., & Whiten, A. (2013). Diffusion Dynamics of Socially Learned Foraging Techniques in Squirrel Monkeys. Current Biology, 23(13), 1251-1255.

Abstract: Social network analyses [1–5] and experimental studies of social learning [6–10] have each become important domains of animal behavior research in recent years yet have remained largely separate. Here we bring them together, providing the first demonstration of how social networks may shape the diffusion of socially learned foraging techniques [11]. One technique for opening an artificial fruit was seeded in the dominant male of a group of squirrel monkeys and an alternative technique in the dominant male of a second group. We show that the two techniques spread preferentially in the groups in which they were initially seeded and that this process was influenced by monkeys’ association patterns. Eigenvector centrality predicted both the speed with which an individual would first succeed in opening the artificial fruit and the probability that they would acquire the cultural variant seeded in their group. These findings demonstrate a positive role of social networks in determining how a new foraging technique diffuses through a population.

The transmission of genes and culture: a questionable analogy

pdf iconClaidière, N. and J.-B. André (2012). “The Transmission of Genes and Culture: A Questionable Analogy.” Evolutionary Biology 39(1): 12-24.

See the following comments too:

  • Hallgrimsdottir, H. (2012). “The GTM Analogy: The “Organismic” Metaphor Revisited?” Evolutionary Biology 39(1): 27-29.
  • Weiss, K. (2012). “Analogy Recapitulating Homology?” Evolutionary Biology 39(1): 25-26.

Abstract: Modes of cultural transmission are, by analogy with modes of genetic transmission, ways in which cultural information is transmitted between individuals. Despite its importance across the behavioral sciences and for theories of cultural evolution, no attempts have been made, to our knowledge, to critically analyze this analogy. We here aim at such detailed comparison and show that the fundamental role of modes of transmission in biology results mainly from two properties of genetic transmission: (i) what is transmitted generally does not influence the way in which it is transmitted; (ii) there is a limited number of simple and stable modes. In culture however, modes of transmission generally lack these two fundamental properties. In particular, in culture it is often the rate of evolutionary change that determines the mode of transmission. We offer some tentative explanation regarding the origins of such a fundamental difference and we conclude that cultural transmission modes are not causal mechanisms that govern the transmission of culture but mere descriptions of the way culture happens to be transmitted at a given time in a given community. This shows the limit of the analogy between biological and cultural evolution and suggests that evolutionary models and theories differ substantially between the two domains.

Integrating the Study of Conformity and Culture in Humans and Non-human Animals

pdf icon Claidière N, Whiten A (2012) Integrating the study of conformity and culture in humans and nonhuman animals. Psychological Bulletin 138: 126-145.

Conformity, defined here by the fact that an individual displays a particular behavior because it is the most frequent they witnessed in others, has long been recognized by social psychologists as one of the main categories of social influence. Surprisingly, it is only recently that conformity has become an active topic in animal and evolutionary biology. As in any new and rapidly growing field however, definitions, hypotheses and protocols are diverse, not easy to organize in a coherent way and sometimes seriously conflict with each other. Here we pursue greater coherence by reviewing the newer literature on conformity in behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology in light of the foundational work in social psychology. We suggest that the knowledge accumulated in social psychology can be exploited by behavioral ecologists and evolutionary biologists to bring conceptual clarity to the field, avoid some experimental pitfalls and help design new and challenging experiments. In particular, we propose that the notions of ‘informational’ and ‘normative’ conformity that, until now, have not been recognized in recent literature can resolve some important controversies. In turn, research on animal culture should be of great interest to social scientists, because understanding human culture and human uniqueness requires an evolutionary analysis of our cognitive capacities and their evolutionary origins. Our review suggests excellent opportunities for social and natural scientists to join forces in building an interdisciplinary and integrative approach to the pervasive phenomenon of conformity.

Imitation explains the propagation, not the stability of animal culture

pdf icon Claidière, N. and D. Sperber (2010). “Imitation explains the propagation, not the stability of animal culture.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277(1681): 651-659.

For acquired behaviour to count as cultural, two conditions must be met: it must propagate in a social group, and it must remain stable in the process of propagation. It is commonly claimed that imitation is the mechanism that explains both the spread of animal culture and its persistence. We review the literature on transmission chain studies in chimpanzees and other animals. We use a formal model to argue, that imitation, which may well play a major role in the propagation of animal culture, cannot be considered faithful enough to explain its stability. We show that adding to the capacity for imitation a relatively strong conformist tendency of the kind suggested by Boyd and Richerson is relevant but unlikely to be sufficient. We consider the contribution that other psychological or ecological factors might make to the persistence of animal culture observed in the wild.