We suggest that human culture exhibits key Darwinian evolutionary properties, and argue that the structure of a science of cultural evolution should share fundamental features with the structure of the science of biological evolution. This latter claim is tested by outlining the methods and approaches employed by the principal subdisciplines of evolutionary biology and assessing whether there is an existing or potential corresponding approach to the study of cultural evolution. Existing approaches within anthropology and archaeology demonstrate a good match with (...) the macroevolutionary methods of systematics, paleobiology, and biogeography, whereas mathematical models derived from population genetics have been successfully developed to study cultural microevolution. Much potential exists for experimental simulations and field studies of cultural microevolution, where there are opportunities to borrow further methods and hypotheses from biology. Potential also exists for the cultural equivalent of molecular genetics in “social cognitive neuroscience,” although many fundamental issues have yet to be resolved. It is argued that studying culture within a unifying evolutionary framework has the potential to integrate a number of separate disciplines within the social sciences. (shrink)
Various deficits in the cognitive functioning of people with autism have been documented in recent years but these provide only partial explanations for the condition. We focus instead on an imitative disturbance involving difficulties both in copying actions and in inhibiting more stereotyped mimicking, such as echolalia. A candidate for the neural basis of this disturbance may be found in a recently discovered class of neurons in frontal cortex, 'mirror neurons' (MNs). These neurons show activity in relation both to specific (...) actions performed by self and matching actions performed by others, providing a potential bridge between minds. MN systems exist in primates without imitative and ‘theory of mind’ abilities and we suggest that in order for them to have become utilized to perform social cognitive functions, sophisticated cortical neuronal systems have evolved in which MNs function as key elements. Early developmental failures of MN systems are likely to result in a consequent cascade of developmental impairments characterised by the clinical syndrome of autism. (shrink)
The human primate is a deeply cultural species, our cognition being shaped by culture, and cultural transmission amounting to an “epidemic of mental representations” (Sperber, 1996). The architecture of this aspect of human cognition has been shaped by our evolutionary past in ways that we can now begin to discern through comparative studies of other primates. Processes of social learning (learning from others) are important for cognitive science to understand because they are cognitively complex and take many interrelated forms; they (...) shape traditions, cultures and nonsocial aspects of cognition; and in turn they may be shaped by their cultural context. The study of primate social learning and culture has in recent years enjoyed a renaissance, providing a wealth of new findings, key aspects of which are reviewed. The focus is on cognitive issues, including learning about the consequences, sequential structure and hierarchical organization of actions; relating stored knowledge to the assimilation of new social knowledge; feedback guiding the construction of imitations; conceptual grasp of imitation; and the reciprocal relationship between social learning and culture. (shrink)
There is extensive evidence that adults, children, and some non-human species, represent routine events in the form of hierarchically structured 'action scripts,' and show superior recall and imitation of information at relatively high-levels of this hierarchy. Here we investigate the hypothesis that a 'hierarchical bias' operates in human cultural transmission, acting to impose a hierarchical structure onto descriptions of everyday events, and to increasingly describe those events in terms of higher hierarchical levels. Descriptions of three everyday events expressed entirely in (...) terms of basic low-level actions were transmitted along ten chains each containing four adult human participants. It was found that the proportion of low-level information showed a significant linear decrease with transmission generation, while the proportions of medium- and high-level information showed significant linear increases, consistent with the operation of a hierarchical bias. The findings additionally provide support for script theory in general, and are discussed in relation to hierarchical imitation in non-human primates. (shrink)
Heyes sets out an intriguing theory but it raises more questions than compelling answers concerning culturally shaped cognition. I set out what I see as the most pressing questions, ranging over the book's early chapters concerning the structure of the theory, to two of Heyes’ four exemplar cognitive domains, selective social learning and imitation.
We are encouraged that the majority of commentators endorse our evolutionary framework for studying culture, and several suggest extensions. Here we clarify our position, dwelling on misunderstandings and requests for exposition. We reiterate that using evolutionary biology as a model for unifying the social sciences within a single synthetic framework can stimulate a more progressive and rigorous science of culture. (Published Online November 9 2006).
Byrne & Russon rightly draw attention to complex and neglected aspects of ape imitation. However, program-level imitation as a single, absolute category may mislead us in understanding abstractions involved in imitation. Designing the right experiments will offer clarity. One recent experiment has shown imitation of sequential structure: What is needed to test other components of what the authors propose?
Three related issues are addressed. First, Hurley treats emulation and imitation as a straightforward dichotomy with emulation emerging first. Recent conceptual analyses and chimpanzee experiments challenge this. Second, other recent chimpanzee experiments reveal high-fidelity social transmission, questioning whether copying fidelity is the brake on cumulative culture. Finally, other cognitive processes such as pretence need to be integrated.
It is now over twenty years since Premack and Woodruff posed the question, ‘Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?’—‘by which we meant’, explained Premack in a later reappraisal, ‘does the ape do what humans do: attribute states of mind to the other one, and use these states to predict and explain the behaviour of the other one? For example, does the ape wonder, while looking quizzically at another individual, What does he reallywant?What does hebelieve?What are hisintentions?'.
The principal contrasts that Jagiello et al. highlight are among many cultural transmission biases we now know of. I suggest they are also reflected more widely in social learning decisions among nonhuman animal cultures governing whether cultural innovations spread, or are instead over-ridden by immigrants' conformity in their new group. Such conformity may serve either informational or social-integrative functions.
It is now over twenty years since Premack and Woodruff posed the question, ‘Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?’—‘by which we meant’, explained Premack in a later reappraisal, ‘does the ape do what humans do: attribute states of mind to the other one, and use these states to predict and explain the behaviour of the other one? For example, does the ape wonder, while looking quizzically at another individual, What does he really want? What does he believe? What (...) are his intentions? '. (shrink)
Discoveries about social learning and culture in non-human animals have burgeoned this century, yet despite aspiring to offer a unified account of culture, the target article neglects these discoveries almost totally. I offer an overview of principal findings in this field including phylogenetic reach, intraspecies pervasiveness, stability, fidelity, and attentional funnelling in social learning. Can the authors’ approach accommodate these?
Recent evidence suggests imitation is more developed in some cetaceans than the authors imply. Apart from apes, only dolphins have so far shown a grasp of what it is to imitate; moreover dolphins ape humans more clearly than do apes. Why have such abilities not been associated with the kind of progressive cultural complexity characteristic of humans?
The authors do the field of cultural evolution a service by exploring the role of non-social cognition in human cumulative technological culture, truly neglected in comparison with socio-cognitive abilities frequently assumed to be the primary drivers. Some specifics of their delineation of the critical factors are problematic, however. I highlight recent chimpanzee–human comparative findings that should help refine such analyses.
I focus on the logic of the goggles experiment, which if it as watertight as Heyes argues, should clearly support ape theory of mind if positive, and clearly reject it if negative. This is not the case, since the experiment tests for only one kind of mindreading, “experience projection”: but it is an excellent test for this, given adequate controls.