Detecting social transmission in the design of artifacts via inverse planning

AbstractHow do people use human-made objects (artifacts) to learn about the people and actions that created them? We test the richness of people’s reasoning in this domain, focusing on the task of judging whether social transmission has occurred (whether one person copied another). We develop a formal model of this reasoning process as a form of rational inverse planning, which predicts that rather than solely focusing on artifacts’ similarity to judge whether copying occurred, people should also take into account availability constraints (the materials available), and functional constraints (which materials work). Using an artifact-building task where two characters build tools to solve a puzzle box, we find that this inverse planning model predicts trial-by-trial judgments, whereas simpler models that do not consider availability or functional constraints do not. This suggests people use a process like inverse planning to make flexible inferences from artifacts’ features about the source of design ideas.

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