Bringing cumulative technological culture beyond copying versus reasoning

Osiurak, F., Claidière, N., & Federico, G. (2022). Bringing cumulative technological culture beyond copying versus reasoning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

See comment by Cecilia Heyes, “The cognitive reality of causal understanding” and our reply “Technical reasoning: neither cognitive instinct nor cognitive gadget“.

Abstract: The dominant view of cumulative technological culture suggests that high-fidelity transmission rests upon a high-fidelity copying ability, which allows individuals to reproduce the tool-use actions performed by others without needing to understand them (i.e., without causal reasoning). The opposition between copying versus reasoning is well accepted but with little supporting evidence. In this article, we investigate this distinction by examining the cognitive science literature on tool use. Evidence indicates that the ability to reproduce others’ tool-use actions requires causal understanding, which questions the copying versus reasoning distinction and the cognitive reality of the so-called copying ability. We conclude that new insights might be gained by considering causal understanding as a key driver of cumulative technological culture.

Impact of technical reasoning and theory of mind on cumulative technological culture: insights from a model of micro-societies

Bluet, A., Osiurak, F., Claidière, N., & Reynaud, E. (2022). Impact of technical reasoning and theory of mind on cumulative technological culture: insights from a model of micro-societies. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 9(1), 231. doi:10.1057/s41599-022-01251-z

Our technologies have never ceased to evolve, allowing our lineage to expand its habitat all over the Earth, and even to explore space. This phenomenon, called cumulative technological culture (CTC), has been studied extensively, notably using mathematical and computational models. However, the cognitive capacities needed for the emergence and maintenance of CTC remain largely unknown. In the literature, the focus is put on the distinctive ability of humans to imitate, with an emphasis on our unique social skills underlying it, namely theory of mind (ToM). A recent alternative view, called the technical-reasoning hypothesis, proposes that our unique ability to understand the physical world (i.e., technical reasoning; TR) might also play a critical role in CTC. Here, we propose a simple model, based on the micro-society paradigm, that integrates these two hypotheses. The model is composed of a simple environment with only one technology that is transmitted between generations of individuals. These individuals have two cognitive skills: ToM and TR, and can learn in different social-learning conditions to improve the technology. The results of the model show that TR can support both the transmission of information and the modification of the technology, and that ToM is not necessary for the emergence of CTC although it allows a faster growth rate.

Understanding Imitation in Papio papio: The Role of Experience and the Presence of a Conspecific Demonstrator

Formaux, A., O’Sullivan, E., Fagot, J., & Claidière, N. (2022). Understanding Imitation in Papio papio: The Role of Experience and the Presence of a Conspecific Demonstrator. Cognitive Science, 46(3), e13117. doi:

What factors affect imitation performance? Varying theories of imitation stress the role of experience, but few studies have explicitly tested its role in imitative learning in non-human primates. We tested several predictions regarding the role of experience, conspecific presence, and action compatibility using a stimulus–response compatibility protocol. Nineteen baboons separated into two experimental groups learned to respond by targeting on a touch screen the same stimulus as their neighbor (compatible) or the opposite stimulus (incompatible). They first performed the task with a conspecific demonstrator (social phase) and then a computer demonstrator (ghost phase). After reaching a predetermined success threshold, they were then tested in an opposite compatibility condition (i.e.,reversal learning conditions). Seven baboons performed at least two reversals during the social phase, and we found no significant difference between the compatible and incompatible conditions, although we noticed slightly faster response times (RTs) in the compatible condition that disappeared after the first reversal. During the ghost phase, monkeys showed difficulties in learning the incompatible condition, and the compatible condition RTs tended to be slower than during the social phase. Together, these results suggest that (a) there is no strong movement compatibility effect in our task and that (b) the presence of a demonstrator plays a role in eliciting correct responses but is not essential as has been
previously shown in human studies.

Technical reasoning bolsters cumulative technological culture through convergent transformations

Osiurak, F., Claidière, N., Bluet, A., Brogniart, J., Lasserre, S., Bonhoure, T., . . . Reynaud, E. Technical reasoning bolsters cumulative technological culture through convergent transformations. Science Advances, 8(9), eabl7446. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abl7446

Abstract: Understanding the evolution of human technology is key to solving the mystery of our origins. Current theories propose that technology evolved through the accumulation of modifications that were mostly transmitted between individuals by blind copying and the selective retention of advantageous variations. An alternative account is that high-fidelity transmission in the context of cumulative technological culture is supported by technical reasoning, which is a reconstruction mechanism that allows individuals to converge to optimal solutions. We tested these two competing hypotheses with a microsociety experiment, in which participants had to optimize a physical system in partial- and degraded-information transmission conditions. Our results indicated an improvement of the system over generations, which was accompanied by an increased understanding of it. The solutions produced tended to progressively converge over generations. These findings show that technical reasoning can bolster high-fidelity transmission through convergent transformations, which highlights its role in the cultural evolution of technology.

It happened to a friend of a friend: inaccurate source reporting in rumour diffusion

Altay, S., Claidière, N., & Mercier, H. (2020). It happened to a friend of a friend: Inaccurate source reporting in rumour diffusion. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 2, E49. doi:10.1017/ehs.2020.53

Abstract: People often attribute rumours to an individual in a knowledgeable position two steps removed from them (a credible friend of a friend), such as ‘my friend’s father, who’s a cop, told me about a serial killer in town’. Little is known about the influence of such attributions on rumour propagation, or how they are maintained when the rumour is transmitted. In four studies (N = 1824) participants exposed to a rumour and asked to transmit it overwhelmingly attributed it either to a credible friend of a friend, or to a generic friend (e.g. ‘a friend told me about a serial killer in town’). In both cases, participants engaged in source shortening: e.g. when told by a friend that ‘a friend told me …’ they shared the rumour as coming from ‘a friend’ instead of ‘a friend of friend’. Source shortening and reliance on credible sources boosted rumour propagation by increasing the rumours’ perceived plausibility and participants’ willingness to share them. Models show that, in linear transmission chains, the generic friend attribution dominates, but that allowing each individual to be exposed to the rumour from several sources enables the maintenance of the credible friend of a friend attribution.

Do guide dogs have culture?

Guillo, D., & Claidière, N. (2020). Do guide dogs have culture? The case of indirect social learning. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 7(1), 31. doi:10.1057/s41599-020-0515-3

Abstract: In the study of animal behaviour, culture is often seen as the result of direct social transmission from a model to a conspecific. In this essay, we show that unrecognised cultural phenomena are sustained by a special form of indirect social learning (ISL). ISL occurs when an individual B learns a behaviour from an individual A through something produced by A. A’s behavioural products can be chemicals, artefacts, but also, we argue, behaviours of another group or species that are the consequence of A’s actions. For instance, a behaviour —guiding a blind person— can be transmitted from dog A to dog B, because the fact that dog A learns the behaviour creates in the mind of the trainer representations about the efficacy of the training practice that can be transmitted to another human, who can then train dog B. These dog behaviours have all the properties of standard cultural behaviours and spread in some dog populations through the exploitation of the social learning capacities of another group/species. Following this idea requires a change in perspective on how we see the social transmission of behaviours and brings forward the fact that certain cultural practices can spread among animals through a cultural co-evolutionary dynamic with humans or other animals.

Obstacles to the spread of unintuitive beliefs

Mercier, H., Majima, Y., Claidière, N., & Léone, J. (2019). Obstacles to the spread of unintuitive beliefs. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 1, E10. doi:10.1017/ehs.2019.10

Abstract: Many socially significant beliefs are unintuitive, from the harmlessness of GMOs to the efficacy of vaccination, and they are acquired via deference toward individuals who are more confident, more competent or a majority. In the two-step flow model of communication, a first group of individuals acquires some beliefs through deference and then spreads these beliefs more broadly. Ideally, these individuals should be able to explain why they deferred to a given source – to provide arguments from expertise – and others should find these arguments convincing. We test these requirements using a perceptual task with participants from the US and Japan. In Experiment 1, participants were provided with first-hand evidence that they should defer to an expert, leading a majority of participants to adopt the expert’s answer. However, when attempting to pass on this answer, only a minority of those participants used arguments from expertise. In Experiment 2, participants receive an argument from expertise describing the expert’s competence, instead of witnessing it first-hand. This leads to a significant drop in d