Tag Archives: evolution

The When and Who of Social Learning and Conformist Transmission

Tom Morgan, Joe Henrich and I recently published a paper on the “The When and Who of Social Learning and Conformist Transmission” in Evolution and Human Behavior.

Conformist transmission is a type of frequency dependent social learning
strategy in which individuals are disproportionately inclined to copy the most common trait in their sample of the population (e.g. individuals have a 90% probability of copying a trait that 60% of people possess). The bias is particularly important, because it tends to homogenize behavior within groups increasing between group differences relative to within group differences.

Our three key findings across two experiments were:

  1. Substantial amounts of conformist transmission. We found substantial reliance on conformist biased social learning, with only 3% and 9% (or 15%) showing no bias in Experiments 1 and 2, respectively.
  2. Increased social learning and stronger conformist bias as the number of options increased. Both the amount of social learning and the strength of conformist biases increased as the number of options increased (i.e. 60% of people wearing black shirts is more persuasive in a world of black, red, blue, yellow, and white shirt colors than in a world of only black shirts and white shirts). These results mean that all prior experiments have underestimated reliance on social learning and the strength of conformist transmission, since all use only 2 options.
  3. IQ predicts both social learning and the strength of the conformist bias. IQ predicts less social learning, but has a U-shaped relationship to the strength of the conformist bias. These results suggest that higher IQ individuals are strategically using social learning (using it less, but with a stronger conformist bias when they choose to use other information).

For a list and discussion of all key findings, see the Discussion section of the paper.

Selected Media Coverage

CBC Radio “The 180” Interview

Global TV News Interview

Fast Company

Developing Best Practices for Teaching Evolution in the Social Sciences NESCent Meeting in Durham, North Carolina

I and twenty-nine other scholars from the social and biological sciences met to discuss Developing Best Practices for Teaching Evolution in the Social Sciences.

Cristine Legare, Andrew Shtulman, and John Opfer did a flawless job in organizing and leading the Catalysis Meeting at the NSF funded National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) in Durham, North Carolina.

We discussed the obstacles, pedagogical techniques, and methods of assessment in teaching evolution. The next step is find ways to convey these best practices to the broader research and teaching community. Possible products include a suggested curriculum and white paper outlining best practices.

Other attendees included:

Tanya Broesch (Simon Fraser University)
Justin Busch (University of Texas at Austin)
David Buss (University of Texas at Austin)
Maciek Chudek (Arizona State University)
Julia Clarke (University of Texas at Austin)
Dan Conroy-Beam (University of Texas at Austin)
Benjamin Cox (University of Texas at Austin)
Margaret Evans (University of Michigan)
Erin Furtak (University of Colorado Boulder)
Cari Goetz (University of Texas at Austin)
Katie Hinde (Harvard University)
Michelle Kline (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Rob Kurzban (University of Pennsylvania)
Rose McDermott (Brown University)
Marie Monfils (University of Texas at Austin)
Robin Nelson (Skidmore College)
Lars Penke (University of Goettingen)
David Rakison (Carnegie Mellon University)
Matt Rossano (Southeastern Louisiana University)
Joshua Rottman (Boston University)
Laurie Santos (Yale University)
Mark Schaller (University of British Columbia)
Gale Sinatra (University of Southern California)
Bill von Hippel (University of Queensland)
Rachel Watson-Jones (University of Texas at Austin)
Deena Weisberg (University of Pennsylvania)