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IMC Bootcamp on Cultural Transmission Studies

Workshop on Cultural Transmission and Evolution, with invited talks by Kristian Tylén, Nicolas Fay, Emma Flynn, Rachel Kendall, and Cathrine Hasse.

Info about event


Tuesday 26 April 2016,  at 09:15 - 16:30


IMC Meeting Room, Nobelparken

Due to recent exciting new collaborations to be officially announced soon, some of the bootcamps of 2016 will be dedicated to the exploration of play and/or learning.

The topic of the day:

The topic of the April Bootcamp is "Cultural transmission studies", i.e. methods exploring how we learn across generations, how cultural practises evolve, diverge and converge over time and what are the cognitive requirements for (and benefits of) such cultural evolution.

In addition to observational studies in animals and humans, a growing field of research is bringing these processes to the lab (simulating several generations within a short time), allowing experimental control of environmental and strategic conditions and thus a more nuanced understanding of the potential cognitive mechanisms involved. 

This workshop aims to bring together five leading researchers' perspectives on the topic, that is from semiotics, experimental psychology, developmental psychology, comparative psychology and anthropology/archeology.




Invited speakers and abstracts:


Kristian Tylén 


Introduction to Topic


Nicolas Fay


The Cultural Evolution of Human Communication Systems

Human communication systems such as language are socially learned.  Irrespective of the particular linguistic system, people socially learn the system used in their linguistic community.  Humans have a range of social learning strategies at their disposal; from individual-level strategies to more complex social-coordinative strategies.  Whereas individual-level strategies are sufficient for some forms of social learning (e.g., the production of simple material artifacts), I will argue that more complex social-coordinative learning strategies are crucial to the creation of effective, efficient and aligned human communication systems.  Evidence for this position will be presented across a range of experimental studies, including horizontal and vertical transmission experiments, and computer simulations.


Emma Flynn


Investigating cultural transmission with children (or the story of a psychologist who needs two pairs of hands, two heads, and to be in two places at once) 

In this talk I will overview a series of studies that have investigated how information is transmitted across groups of children, and what this tells us about cultural transmission. I will present work which has used the diffusion chain design to show that children are faithful to the methods that they see others perform, but that they also introduce efficiency into their own behaviour. Such work suggests that fidelity to observed behaviour may be one of the critical features of humans, and underpin our cultural success.  I also present work using open diffusion designs which shows how innovations are introduced into groups, and how these are adopted and subsequently transmitted. I address issues related to who introduces the innovation, when it is introduced, and how it is transmitted.


Rachel Kendall 


Comparative studies of cultural transmission and cumulative culture.

Cumulative cultural evolution (the improvement of technology or ideas across generations) is widely held to be responsible for humanity’s outstanding success in colonising virtually every terrestrial habitat on the planet and solving countless ecological, social and technological challenges in the process.  Although we see cultural transmission (social learning) in many nonhuman species, and several exhibit behavioural traditions or ‘culture’, the evidence for cumulative culture outside of humans is limited, at best.  Although social learning is a cheap and efficient form of learning, it is not adaptive to use social information indiscriminately due to its potential unreliability. Thus it is predicted that individuals should use transmission biases enabling them to avoid the costs associated with asocial learning and influencing when they use social information and from whom they acquire it.   I shall review several of my recent empirical studies, with young children, and both captive and wild non-human primates, highlighting how comparative studies may be employed to infer the socio-cognition involved in cultural transmission in humans and nonhumans alike. In particular, I will discuss the potential role of transmission biases in humanity’s striking capacity for cumulative culture. 


Cathrine Hasse 


Cultural transmission or cultural transformation

Culture is a contested field (Hasse 2015, 29ff). In this talk I shall take a critical perspective on the notion of cultural transmission. Following discussions taken by Vygotskyan psychologists as well as cultural and cognitive anthropologists the basic unit of analysis of culture is the materially based word-meaning (Vygotsky 1987). In this line of thinking is a direct relation between how cultural practices evolve ontogenetically over a life-time and phylogenetically as cultural processes of divergence and convergence over time. The cognitive requirements for this cultural historical process is not transmission, but transformation of what Vygotsky termed ‘ higher mental functions’ that concern the process of meaning making (Vygotsky 1978). I shall from this point of departure argue that culture cannot be transmitted but only transformed. If transmission imply a 1:1 social understanding of available cultural resources, transformation processes ensure creative processes of collaborative learning where new angles and potentials are constantly emerging as our word-meanings are challenged.



General information about the Bootcamp format:

Once a month the IMC is organizing a full-day interactive workshop, featuring a hot topic in cognitive neuroscience research.  

Each workshop is one or two days long and open to a small crowd of people (30-40). It is an opportunity to present latest results, but more importantly, thought of as a space to discuss different approaches (e.g. theoretical enquiries, observations, various behavioural data, physiological measures, imaging methodologies) to look at the same phenomena with regard to questions, such as: 

- What are the premises of these methods? What do they actually assess? Which assumptions are made when used to look at the phenomenon of interest? What conceptual implications does that have? How do they inform each other or can they be combined, considering all this, without problems? 

- How do we apply these questions to research involving interacting individuals (n

To allow this, the event is structured as follows:

- The morning starts with an introductory lecture, giving a short and more historical overview and presenting general outstanding questions.  

- Then, 2-3 methodological lectures, each presenting one approach

- Finally, a informal discussion with all participants about questions that have emerged and challenges for future research. Time for talks and discussions is usually almost 50/50. 

Lenses are always chosen for their crossdisciplinary interest, so wether you are an veteran in the field or just curious, the IMC bootcamps are a great place to jump in aided by the foremost international experts in the fields.