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  • 1 Mälardalen University, Sweden
  • | 2 Center for cultural evolution, Wallenberglaboratoriet, Stockholm University, SE-106 91, Stockholm, Sweden
  • | 3 University of Bologna, Italy
  • | 4 Stockholm University, Sweden
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Existing mathematical models suggest that gene-culture coevolution favours a conformist bias in social learning, that is, a psychological mechanism to preferentially acquire the most common cultural variants. Here we show that this conclusion relies on specific assumptions that seem unrealistic, such as that all cultural variants are known to every individual. We present two models that remove these assumptions, showing that: 1) the rate of cultural evolution and the adaptive value of culture are higher in a population in which individuals pick cultural variants at random (Random strategy) rather than picking the most common one (Conform strategy); 2) in genetic evolution the Random strategy out-competes the Conform strategy, unless cultural evolution is very slow, in which case Conform and Random usually coexist; 3) the individuals’ ability to evaluate cultural variants is a more important determinant of the adaptive value of culture than frequency-based choice strategies. We also review existing empirical literature and game-theoretic arguments for conformity, finding neither strong empirical evidence nor a strong theoretical expectation for a general conformist bias. Our own vignette study of social learning shows that people may indeed use different social learning strategies depending on context.

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Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 
Language English
Year of
2007 (2003)
changed title
per Year
per Year
Founder Akadémiai Kiadó
H-1117 Budapest, Hungary 1516 Budapest, PO Box 245.
Publisher Akadémiai Kiadó
H-1117 Budapest, Hungary 1516 Budapest, PO Box 245.
Chief Executive Officer, Akadémiai Kiadó
ISSN 1789-2082 (Print)
ISSN 2060-5587 (Online)

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