• Graphical communication;
  • Interaction;
  • Language evolution;
  • Iterated learning;
  • Sign;
  • Icon;
  • Symbol


This paper compares two explanations of the process by which human communication systems evolve: iterated learning and social collaboration. It then reports an experiment testing the social collaboration account. Participants engaged in a graphical communication task either as a member of a community, where they interacted with seven different partners drawn from the same pool, or as a member of an isolated pair, where they interacted with the same partner across the same number of games. Participants’ horizontal, pair-wise interactions led “bottom up” to the creation of an effective and efficient shared sign system in the community condition. Furthermore, the community-evolved sign systems were as effective and efficient as the local sign systems developed by isolated pairs. Finally, and as predicted by a social collaboration account, and not by an iterated learning account, interaction was critical to the creation of shared sign systems, with different isolated pairs establishing different local sign systems and different communities establishing different global sign systems.