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

Physical intelligence does matter to cumulative technological culture

Osiurak, F., De Oliveira, E., Navarro, J., Lesourd, M., Claidière, N., & Reynaud, E. (2016). Physical Intelligence Does Matter to Cumulative Technological Culture. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. doi: 10.1037/xge0000189

Abstract: Tool-based culture is not unique to humans, but cumulative technological culture is. The social intelligence hypothesis suggests that this phenomenon is fundamentally based on uniquely human sociocognitive skills (e.g., shared intentionality). An alternative hypothesis is that cumulative technological culture also crucially depends on physical intelligence, which may reflect fluid and crystallized aspects of intelligence and enables people to understand and improve the tools made by predecessors. By using a tool-making– based microsociety paradigm, we demonstrate that physical intelligence is a stronger predictor of cumulative technological performance than social intelligence. Moreover, learners’ physical intelligence is critical not only in observational learning but also when learners interact verbally with teachers. Finally, we show that cumulative performance is only slightly influenced by teachers’ physical and social intelligence. In sum, human technological culture needs “great engineers” to evolve regardless of the proportion of “great pedagogues.” Social intelligence might play a more limited role than commonly assumed, perhaps in tool-use/making situations in which teachers and learners have to share symbolic representations.

Universal Cognitive Mechanisms Explain the Cultural Success of Bloodletting

Miton, H., Claidière, N., & Mercier, H. (2015) Universal Cognitive Mechanisms Explain the Cultural Success of Bloodletting. Evolution and Human Behavior. doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2015.01.003

Bloodletting across cultures worldwide

Figure: Bloodletting across cultures worldwide

Abstract: Bloodletting—the practice of letting blood out to cure a patient—was for centuries one of the main therapies in the West. We lay out three potential explanations for bloodletting’s cultural success: that it was efficient, that it was defended by prestigious sources—in particular ancient physicians—, and that cognitive mechanisms made it a particularly attractive practice. To test these explanations, we first review the anthropological data available in eHRAF. These data reveal that bloodletting is practiced by many unrelated cultures worldwide, where it is performed for different indications and in different ways. This suggests that the success of bloodletting cannot only be explained by its medical efficiency or by the prestige of Western physicians. Instead, some universal cognitive mechanisms likely make bloodletting an attractive form of therapy. We further test this hypothesis using the technique of transmission chains. Three experiments are conducted in the U.S., a culture that does not practice bloodletting. Studies 1 and 2 reveal that stories involving bloodletting survive longer than some other common therapies, and that the most successful variants in the experiments are also the most successful variants worldwide. Study 3 shows how a story about a mundane event—an accidental cut—can turn into a story about bloodletting. This research demonstrates the potential of combining different methodologies—review of anthropological data, experiments, and modeling—to investigate cultural phenomena.

Selective and contagious prosocial resource donation in capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and humans

Claidière, N., Whiten, A., Mareno, M. C., Messer, E. J. E., Brosnan, S. F., Hopper, L. M., . . . McGuigan, N. (2015). Selective and contagious prosocial resource donation in capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and humans. Scientific reports(5), 7631. doi: 10.1038/srep07631

Prosocial test for capuchins, chimpanzees and humans

Figure: Experimental setup with chimpanzees, capuchins and humans (adults and infants). Drawing from Jason Zampol.

Abstract: Prosocial acts benefitting others are widespread amongst humans. By contrast, chimpanzees have failed to demonstrate such a disposition in several studies, leading some authors to conclude that the forms of prosociality studied evolved in humans since our common ancestry. However, similar prosocial behavior has since been documented in other primates, such as capuchin monkeys. Here, applying the same methodology to humans, chimpanzees, and capuchins, we provide evidence that all three species will display prosocial behavior, but only in certain conditions. Fundamental forms of prosociality were age-dependent in children, conditional on self-beneficial resource distributions even at age seven, and conditional on social or resource configurations in chimpanzees and capuchins. We provide the first evidence that experience of conspecific companions’ prosocial behavior facilitates prosocial behavior in children and chimpanzees. Prosocial actions were manifested in all three species following rules of contingency that may reflect strategically adaptive responses.

Wild vervet monkeys copy alternative methods for opening an artificial fruit

pdf iconvan de Waal, E., Claidière, N., & Whiten, A. (2014). Wild vervet monkeys copy alternative methods for opening an artificial fruit. Animal Cognition, 1-11. doi: 10.1007/s10071-014-0830-4

Abstract: Experimental studies of animal social learning in the wild remain rare, especially those that employ the most discriminating tests in which alternative means to complete naturalistic tasks are seeded in different groups. We applied this approach to wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops) using an artificial fruit (‘vervetable’) opened by either lifting a door panel or sliding it left or right. In one group, a trained model lifted the door, and in two others, the model slid it either left or right. Members of each group then watched their model before being given access to multiple baited vervetables with all opening techniques possible. Thirteen of these monkeys opened vervetables, displaying a significant tendency to use the seeded technique on their first opening and over the course of the experiment. The option preferred in these monkeys’ first successful manipulation session was also highly correlated with the proportional frequency of the option they had previously witnessed. The social learning effects thus documented go beyond mere stimulus enhancement insofar as the same door knob was grasped for either technique. Results thus suggest that through imitation, emulation or both, new foraging techniques will spread across groups of wild vervet monkeys to create incipient foraging traditions.

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

Frequency of Behavior Witnessed and Conformity in an Everyday Social Context

pdf iconClaidière, N., Bowler, M., Brookes, S., Brown, R., & Whiten, A. (2014). Frequency of Behavior Witnessed and Conformity in an Everyday Social Context. PLoS ONE, 9(6), e99874. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099874

Abstract: Conformity is thought to be an important force in human evolution because it has the potential to stabilize cultural homogeneity within groups and cultural diversity between groups. However, the effects of such conformity on cultural and biological evolution will depend much on the particular way in which individuals are influenced by the frequency of alternative behavioral options they witness. In a previous study we found that in a natural situation people displayed a tendency to be ‘linear-conformist’. When visitors to a Zoo exhibit were invited to write or draw answers to questions on cards to win a small prize and we manipulated the proportion of text versus drawings on display, we found a strong and significant effect of the proportion of text displayed on the proportion of text in the answers, a conformist effect that was largely linear with a small non-linear component. However, although this overall effect is important to understand cultural evolution, it might mask a greater diversity of behavioral responses shaped by variables such as age, sex, social environment and attention of the participants. Accordingly we performed a further study explicitly to analyze the effects of these variables, together with the quality of the information participants’ responses made available to further visitors. Results again showed a largely linear conformity effect that varied little with the variables analyzed.

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.

Social learning and spread of alternative means of opening an artificial fruit in four groups of vervet monkeys

pdf icon van de Waal, E., Claidière, N., & Whiten, A. (2013). Social learning and spread of alternative means of opening an artificial fruit in four groups of vervet monkeys. Animal Behaviour, 85(1), 71-76.

Two-action experiments, in which observer individuals watch models use one of two alternative methods to achieve the same goal, have become recognized as a powerful method for studying social learning. We applied this approach to vervet monkeys, Chlorocebus aethiops, using an artificial fruit (‘vervetable’) which could be opened by either lifting a door panel on its front, or alternatively by sliding the panel to the left or right. In each of two groups a model was trained to lift the door and in two others the model slid it to either the left or right. Members of each group could then watch their model before the group was given access to multiple baited vervetables. Over the course of 100 openings we found a significant tendency for the lift and slide approaches to spread preferentially in the groups in which they were seeded. The same was true for slide left versus slide right, indicating these monkeys can attend to and learn from a fine level of detail in what others do. This effect cannot be explained by mere local enhancement since monkeys grasped a knob centred in the door to perform all techniques. Instead, imitation or emulation is implicated. No significant diminution of the tendency to adopt the seeded technique occurred among individuals learning later rather earlier in the study. Our results show that vervet monkeys have the capacity to learn from others by either emulation or imitation and what they learn has the potential to spread across their group.

Weak or Linear Conformity not Hyper-Conformity

pdf iconClaidière N, Bowler M, Whiten A (2012) Evidence for Weak or Linear Conformity but Not for Hyper-Conformity in an Everyday Social Learning Context. PLoS ONE 7(2): e30970. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030970

Conformity is thought to be an important force in cultural evolution because it has the potential to stabilize cooperation in large groups, potentiate group selection and thus explain uniquely human behaviors. However, the effects of such conformity on cultural and biological evolution will depend much on the way individuals are influenced by the frequency of alternative behavioral options witnessed. Theoretical modeling has suggested that only what we refer to as ‘hyper-conformity’, an exaggerated tendency to perform the most frequent behavior witnessed in other individuals, is able to increase within-group homogeneity and between-group diversity, for instance. Empirically however, few experiments have addressed how the frequency of behavior witnessed affects behavior. Accordingly we performed an experiment to test for the presence of conformity in a natural situation with humans. Visitors to a Zoo exhibit were invited to write or draw answers to questions on A5 cards and potentially win a small prize. We manipulated the proportion of existing writings versus drawings visible to visitors and measured the proportion of written cards submitted. We found a strong and significant effect of the proportion of text displayed on the proportion of text in the answers, thus demonstrating social learning. We show that this effect is approximately linear, with potentially a small, weak-conformist component but no hyper-conformist one. The present experiment therefore provides evidence for linear conformity in humans in a very natural context.

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.

The natural selection of fidelity in social learning

pdf icon Claidière, N. and Sperber, D. (2010) “The natural selection of fidelity in social learning.” Communicative and Integrative Biology, 3:4, 1-2

Social learning mechanisms are usually assumed to explain both the spread and the persistence of cultural behaviour. In a recent article, we showed that the fidelity of social learning commonly found in transmission chain experiments is not high enough to explain cultural stability. Here we want to both enrich and qualify this conclusion by looking at the case of song transmission in song birds, which can be faithful to the point of being true replication. We argue that this high fidelity results from natural selection pressure on cognitive mechanisms. This observation strengthens our main argument. Social learning mechanisms are unlikely to be faithful enough to explain cultural stability because they are generally selected not for high fidelity but for generalisation and adjustment to the individual’s needs, capacities and situation.

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.

Defining and explaining culture

Download PDFDefining and explaining culture. Comments on Boyd and Richerson Not by genes alone. Dan Sperber and Nicolas Claidière. Biology and Philosophy 2008 23(2): 283-292.

We argue that there is a continuum of cases without any demarcation between more individual and more cultural information, and that therefore “culture” should be viewed as a property that human mental representations and practices exhibit to a varying degree rather than as a type or a subclass of these representations and practices (or of “information”). We discuss the relative role of preservative and constructive processes in transmission. We suggest a revision of Richerson and Boyd’s classification of the forces of cultural evolution.

The role of attraction in cultural evolution

Download PDFThe role of attraction in cultural evolution. Nicolas Claidière and Dan Sperber. Journal of Cognition and Culture (2007) 7: 89-111.

A critique of: On Modeling Cognition and Culture: Why cultural evolution does not require replication of representations. Joseph Henrich and Robert Boyd, Journal of Cognition and Culture, Volume 2, Number 2, 2002 , pp. 87-112

Henrich and Boyd (2002) were the first to propose a formal model of the role of attraction in cultural evolution. They came to the surprising conclusion that, when both attraction and selection are at work, final outcomes are determined by selection alone. This result is based on a determistic view of cultural attraction, different from the probabilistic view introduced in Sperber (1996). We defend this probabilistic view, show how to model it, and argue that, when both attraction and selection are at work, both affect final outcomes.

Why modelling cultural evolution is still such a challenge

Download PDFWhy Modeling Cultural Evolution Is Still Such a Challenge. Dan Sperber and Nicolas Claidière. Biological Theory 2006 1(1): 20-22.

The idea that cultural evolution exhibits variation, competition, and inheritance and therefore can be studied by adjusting the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection is an attractive one. It has been argued by a number of authors (e.g., Campbell 1960; Monod 1970; Dawkins 1976; Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 1981; Boyd and Richerson 1985; Durham 1991; Aunger 2002; Mesoudi et al. 2004) and pursued in a variety of ways, some (Dawkins and memeticists) staying close to the Darwinian model, others (e.g., Boyd, Richerson, and their collaborators) being more innovative. We agree that there are relevant analogies between biological and cultural evolution and, in particular, that cultural items do exhibit variation, competition, and cumulative modification. On the other hand, we believe that a proper understanding of the mechanisms of cultural propagation drawing on the work of cognitive and social scientists (see Sperber and Hirschfeld 1999 for a review) contradicts the idea that culture exhibits inheritance in the strict sense needed for the theory of evolution by natural selection to apply straightforwardly to it. If so, it will take more than adjusting the Darwinian model to be faithful to the Darwinian inspiration.