Cultural selection drives the evolution of human communication systems

M. Tamariz, Mark Ellison, D.J. Barr, Nicolas Fay

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32 Citations (Scopus)
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Human communication systems evolve culturally, but the evolutionary mechanisms that drive this evolutionare notwell understood.Against a baseline that communication variants spread in a population following neutral evolutionary dynamics (also known as drift models), we tested the role of two cultural selection models: coordination- and content-biased. We constructed a parametrized mixed probabilistic model of the spread of communicative variants in four 8-person laboratory micro-societies engaged in a simple communication game. We found that selectionist models, working in combination, explain the majority of the empirical data. The best-fitting parameter setting includes an egocentric bias and a content bias, suggesting that participants retained their own previously used communicative variants unless they encountered a superior (content-biased) variant, in which case it was adopted. This novel pattern of results suggests that (i) a theory of the cultural evolution of human communication systems must integrate selectionist models and (ii) human communication systems are functionally adaptive complex systems. © 2014 The Authors.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20140488
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1788
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


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