The Effects of Cultural Transmission Are Modulated by the Amount of Information Transmitted


Correspondence should be sent to Tom Griffiths, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, 3210 Tolman Hall, MC 1650, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650. E-mail:


Information changes as it is passed from person to person, with this process of cultural transmission allowing the minds of individuals to shape the information that they transmit. We present mathematical models of cultural transmission which predict that the amount of information passed from person to person should affect the rate at which that information changes. We tested this prediction using a function-learning task, in which people learn a functional relationship between two variables by observing the values of those variables. We varied the total number of observations and the number of those observations that take unique values. We found an effect of the number of observations, with functions transmitted using fewer observations changing form more quickly. We did not find an effect of the number of unique observations, suggesting that noise in perception or memory may have affected learning.