Cumulative improvements in iterated problem solving

AbstractAs compared to other animals, humans are particularly skilled at using and improving tools and other solutions to problems that were first discovered by other people. Although the human capacity for cumulative cultural evolution is well-known, the effectiveness of inheritance as a form of problem solving is an area in need of further research. We report an experiment designed to understand how effectively solutions to problems accumulate over generations of problem solving. Using a tool-discovery game, we found that participants were consistently able to discover more tools in a 25 minute session than their ancestors. Participants who inherited more tools required more time to recreate them, but their rate of new tool discovery was not slowed. In addition, we show that participants were able to recreate the tools they inherited more efficiently than their ancestors, but that inheritance did not confer any improvement in future problem solving. We discuss the limitations of this work, and motivate future directions.

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