Doctor of Philosophy, University of Saint Andrews (2012)
Bachelor of Science, St Patricks College, National Univ (2008)
Marcus Feldman, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Human populations vary demographically with population sizes ranging from small groups of hunter-gatherers with less than fifty individuals to vast cities containing many millions. Here we investigate how the cultural transmission of traits affecting survival, fertility, or both can influence the birth rate, age structure, and asymptotic growth rate of a population. We show that the strong spread of such a trait can lead to a demographic transition, similar to that experienced in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, without using ecological or economic optimizing models. We also show that the spread of a cultural trait that increases fertility, but not survival, can cause demographic change similar to the 'Neolithic demographic transition': a period of increased population growth that is thought to have accompanied the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural lifestyles. We investigate the roles of vertical, oblique, and horizontal learning of such a trait in this transition and find that compared to vertical learning alone, horizontal and oblique learning can accelerate the trait's spread, lead to faster population growth, and increase its equilibrium frequency.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.tpb.2013.06.006
View details for PubMedID 23867394
Niche construction is a process through which organisms modify their environment and, as a result, alter the selection pressures on themselves and other species. In cultural niche construction, one or more cultural traits can influence the evolution of other cultural or biological traits by affecting the social environment in which the latter traits may evolve. Cultural niche construction may include either gene-culture or culture-culture interactions. Here we develop a model of this process and suggest some applications of this model. We examine the interactions between cultural transmission, selection, and assorting, paying particular attention to the complexities that arise when selection and assorting are both present, in which case stable polymorphisms of all cultural phenotypes are possible. We compare our model to a recent model for the joint evolution of religion and fertility and discuss other potential applications of cultural niche construction theory, including the evolution and maintenance of large-scale human conflict and the relationship between sex ratio bias and marriage customs. The evolutionary framework we introduce begins to address complexities that arise in the quantitative analysis of multiple interacting cultural traits.
View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0042744
View details for Web of Science ID 000307500800020
View details for PubMedID 22905167
Teaching, alongside imitation, is widely thought to underlie the success of humanity by allowing high-fidelity transmission of information, skills, and technology between individuals, facilitating both cumulative knowledge gain and normative culture. Yet, it remains a mystery why teaching should be widespread in human societies but extremely rare in other animals. We explore the evolution of teaching using simple genetic models in which a single tutor transmits adaptive information to a related pupil at a cost. Teaching is expected to evolve where its costs are outweighed by the inclusive fitness benefits that result from the tutor's relatives being more likely to acquire the valuable information. We find that teaching is not favored where the pupil can easily acquire the information on its own, or through copying others, or for difficult to learn traits, where teachers typically do not possess the information to pass on to relatives. This leads to a narrow range of traits for which teaching would be efficacious, which helps to explain the rarity of teaching in nature, its unusual distribution, and its highly specific nature. Further models that allow for cumulative cultural knowledge gain suggest that teaching evolved in humans because cumulative culture renders otherwise difficult-to-acquire valuable information available to teach.
View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01370.x
View details for Web of Science ID 000295521600005
View details for PubMedID 21967419
Darwinian processes should favour those individuals that deploy the most effective strategies for acquiring information about their environment. We organized a computer-based tournament to investigate which learning strategies would perform well in a changing environment. The most successful strategies relied almost exclusively on social learning (here, learning a behaviour performed by another individual) rather than asocial learning, even when environments were changing rapidly; moreover, successful strategies focused learning effort on periods of environmental change. Here, we use data from tournament simulations to examine how these strategies might affect cultural evolution, as reflected in the amount of culture (i.e. number of cultural traits) in the population, the distribution of cultural traits across individuals, and their persistence through time. We found that high levels of social learning are associated with a larger amount of more persistent knowledge, but a smaller amount of less persistent expressed behaviour, as well as more uneven distributions of behaviour, as individuals concentrated on exploiting a smaller subset of behaviour patterns. Increased rates of environmental change generated increases in the amount and evenness of behaviour. These observations suggest that copying confers on cultural populations an adaptive plasticity, allowing them to respond to changing environments rapidly by drawing on a wider knowledge base.
View details for DOI 10.1098/rstb.2010.0376
View details for Web of Science ID 000287802900020
View details for PubMedID 21357234
Cultural niche construction is a uniquely potent source of selection on human populations, and a major cause of recent human evolution. Previous theoretical analyses have not, however, explored the local effects of cultural niche construction. Here, we use spatially explicit coevolutionary models to investigate how cultural processes could drive selection on human genes by modifying local resources. We show that cultural learning, expressed in local niche construction, can trigger a process with dynamics that resemble runaway sexual selection. Under a broad range of conditions, cultural niche-constructing practices generate selection for gene-based traits and hitchhike to fixation through the build up of statistical associations between practice and trait. This process can occur even when the cultural practice is costly, or is subject to counteracting transmission biases, or the genetic trait is selected against. Under some conditions a secondary hitchhiking occurs, through which genetic variants that enhance the capability for cultural learning are also favoured by similar dynamics. We suggest that runaway cultural niche construction could have played an important role in human evolution, helping to explain why humans are simultaneously the species with the largest relative brain size, the most potent capacity for niche construction and the greatest reliance on culture.
View details for DOI 10.1098/rstb.2010.0256
View details for Web of Science ID 000287302400005
View details for PubMedID 21320897
Research into social learning (learning from others) has expanded significantly in recent years, not least because of productive interactions between theoretical and empirical approaches. This has been coupled with a new emphasis on learning strategies, which places social learning within a cognitive decision-making framework. Understanding when, how and why individuals learn from others is a significant challenge, but one that is critical to numerous fields in multiple academic disciplines, including the study of social cognition.
View details for Web of Science ID 000287295500003
View details for PubMedID 21215677
Social learning (learning through observation or interaction with other individuals) is widespread in nature and is central to the remarkable success of humanity, yet it remains unclear why copying is profitable and how to copy most effectively. To address these questions, we organized a computer tournament in which entrants submitted strategies specifying how to use social learning and its asocial alternative (for example, trial-and-error learning) to acquire adaptive behavior in a complex environment. Most current theory predicts the emergence of mixed strategies that rely on some combination of the two types of learning. In the tournament, however, strategies that relied heavily on social learning were found to be remarkably successful, even when asocial information was no more costly than social information. Social learning proved advantageous because individuals frequently demonstrated the highest-payoff behavior in their repertoire, inadvertently filtering information for copiers. The winning strategy (discountmachine) relied nearly exclusively on social learning and weighted information according to the time since acquisition.
View details for DOI 10.1126/science.1184719
View details for Web of Science ID 000276459600037
View details for PubMedID 20378813
We explore the evolution of reliance on social and asocial learning using a spatially explicit stochastic model. Our analysis considers the relative merits of four evolved strategies, two pure strategies (asocial and social learning) and two conditional strategies (the "critical social learner," which learns asocially only when copying fails, and the "conditional social learner," which copies only when asocial learning fails). We find that spatial structure generates outcomes that do not always conform to the finding of earlier theoretical analyses that social learning does not enhance average individual fitness at equilibrium (Rogers' paradox). Although we describe circumstances under which the strategy of pure social learning increases the average fitness of individuals, we find that spatial structure introduces a new paradox, which is that social learning can spread even when it decreases the average fitness of individuals below that of asocial learners. We also show that the critical social learner and conditional social learner both provide solutions to the aforementioned paradoxes, although we find some conditions in which pure (random) social learning out-competes both conditional strategies. Finally, we consider the relative merits of critical and conditional social learning under various conditions.
View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00817.x
View details for Web of Science ID 000273821700019
View details for PubMedID 19674093