Studying cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory

C. Caldwell, Ailsa Millen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cumulative cultural evolution is the term given to a particular kind of social learning, which allows for the accumulation of modifications over time, involving a ratchet-like effect where successful modifications are maintained until they can be improved upon. There has been great interest in the topic of cumulative cultural evolution from researchers from a wide variety of disciplines, but until recently there were no experimental studies of this phenomenon. Here, we describe our motivations for developing experimental methods for studying cumulative cultural evolution and review the results we have obtained using these techniques. The results that we describe have provided insights into understanding the outcomes of cultural processes at the population level. Our experiments show that cumulative cultural evolution can result in adaptive complexity in behaviour and can also produce convergence in behaviour. These findings lend support to ideas that some behaviours commonly attributed to natural selection and innate tendencies could in fact be shaped by cultural processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3529-3539
Number of pages11
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B
Issue number1509
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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