Inductive Biases Constrain Cumulative Cultural Evolution

AbstractCumulative cultural evolution is a distinctively human form of information-processing that endows our societies with improbable and efficient technologies. But how objective is this process? A widely held conjecture is that human cognitive biases can constrain cumulative cultural evolution, and therefore shape our discoveries. We present a Bayesian analysis of a simple form of cumulative cultural evolution. This model allows us to formulate and test the theoretical conjecture in an experimental setting for the first time. Across a series of behavioral experiments, we show that people’s inductive biases constrain a population’s ability to discover counter-intuitive virtual technologies in a simple search problem. Our analysis highlights formal relationships between cumulative cultural evolution, Bayesian inference, and stochastic optimization

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