Mathematical Biology Seminar

Richard McElreath
University of Utah
Wednesday Sept. 24, 2008
3:05pm in LCB 215
"The evolution of cultural evolution"


While culture---socially transmitted behavior---appears common in animal societies, cultural evolution---progressive adaptive change in culture---is rare. Humans, unlike other primates, accumulate complex adaptive behavior and knowledge that no individual could possibly invent in his or her own lifetime. Bows and arrows, natural history, and calculus are all examples of bodies of information that required many generations to accumulate. Why is this kind of culture so rare in nature, if it is so adaptive? In this talk, I quickly review previous formal evolutionary modeling of this problem and then present a new model that explores the simultaneous evolution of the capacity for cumulative culture and individual innovation, in a stochastic fluctuating environment. The two-dimensional dynamics of social and individual learning provide a way for cultural evolution to evolve, but the equilibrium adaptedness of culture is no greater once social learning evolves than it would be under pure individual learning.