Intuitive archeology: Detecting social transmission in the design of artifacts

AbstractHuman-made objects (artifacts) often provide rich social information about the people who created them. We explore how people reason about others from the objects they create, characterizing inferences about when social transmission of ideas (copying) has occurred. We test whether judgments are driven by perceptual heuristics, or structured explanation-based reasoning. We develop a Bayesian model of explanation-based inference from artifacts and a simpler model of perceptual heuristics, and ask which better predicts people’s judgments. Our artifact-building task involved two characters who built toy train tracks. Participants viewed pairs of tracks, and judged whether copying had occurred. Our explanation-based model accurately predicted on a trial-by-trial basis when participants inferred copying; the perceptual heuristics model was significantly less accurate. Efficient design ‘explained away’ similarity, making similarity weaker evidence of copying for efficient tracks. Overall, data show that like intuitive archeologists, people make rich explanation-based inferences about others from the objects they create.

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