New Ideas in Evolution and Social Cognition

The double-edged sword of social learning: testing the influence of adaptive and maladaptive social information

Informations pratiques
25 février 2020

ENS, salle L382/384, 24 rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris


A central feature of our species is our unprecedented capacity to develop increasingly complex technologies that have allowed us to colonize and permanently occupy environments for which we are poorly suited biologically. Those technologies have emerged through a process - known as cumulative cultural evolution - that is powered by our strategic reliance on social information and results in the gradual accumulation of innovations. Here, I will present a series of experiments that investigate cumulative culture in the lab and illustrate the benefits and costs that stem from our tendency to learn from others. On the one hand, I will show how cultural transmission allows beneficial modifications to be accumulated across generations and will demonstrate that highly optimized solutions can emerge even in the absence of explicit understanding about how these solutions work. On the other hand, I will show how our propensity to learn from others can reduce exploration at the group level and promote the persistence of sub-optimal solutions. In the last part of the talk, I will discuss some fundamental and practical implications stemming from this work.