A colour sorting task reveals the limits of the universalist/relativist dichotomy: colour categories can be both language specific and perceptual. Claidière N., Jraissati Y. and Chevallier C. Journal of Cognition and Culture 2008 8(3-4): 211-233(23)
We designed a new protocol requiring French adult participants to group a large number of Munsell colour chips into three or four groups. On one, relativist, view, participants would be expected to rely on their colour lexicon in such a task. In this framework, the resulting groups should be more similar to French colour categories than to other languages categories. On another, universalist, view, participants would be expected to rely on universal features of perception. In this second framework, the resulting groups should match colour categories of three and four basic terms languages. In this work, we first collected data to build an accurate map of French colour terms categories (Experiment 1). We went on testing how native French speakers spontaneously sorted a set of randomly presented coloured chips and, in line with the relativist prediction, we found that the resulting colour groups were more similar to French colour categories than to three and four basic terms languages (Experiment 2). However, the same results were obtained in a verbal interference condition (Experiment 3), suggesting that participants rely on language specific and nevertheless perceptual, colour categories. Collectively, these results suggest that the universalist/relativist dichotomy is a too narrow one.
The animal variations: When mechanisms matter in accounting for function. Viciana H. and Claidiere N. Behavioural Brain Sciences 2007 30(4): 424-425
A comment on Ramsey G, Bastian ML, van Schaik C. Animal innovation defined and operationalized. Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2007), 30:393-407
We contend that Ramsey et al’s definition of animal innovation sensu process may be partially misleading when investigating mechanisms underlying animal innovation. By excluding social learning from the ”process” of innovation, they may be reproducing a dichotomous schema that does not accurately correspond to our knowledge of the acquisition of novel behavioral variants. This gives us some reason to doubt the functional specification of the defined ”process” of innovation. Continue reading “The animal variations: When mechanisms matter in accounting for function”
Defining 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. 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 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.