American Anthropologist

Critical Social Learning: A Solution to Rogers's Paradox of Nonadaptive Culture

Authors

  • MAGNUS ENQUIST,

    1. Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden 11691, and Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden 11691
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  • KIMMO ERIKSSON,

    1. Department of Mathematics and Physics, Mälardalen University, 721 23 Västerås, Sweden, and Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden 11691
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  • STEFANO GHIRLANDA

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, 40127 Bologna, Italy, and Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden 11691
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Abstract

Alan Rogers (1988) presented a game theory model of the evolution of social learning, yielding the paradoxical conclusion that social learning does not increase the fitness of a population. We expand on this model, allowing for imperfections in individual and social learning as well as incorporating a “critical social learning” strategy that tries to solve an adaptive problem first by social learning, and then by individual learning if socially acquired behavior proves unsatisfactory. This strategy always proves superior to pure social learning and typically has higher fitness than pure individual learning, providing a solution to Rogers's paradox of nonadaptive culture. Critical social learning is an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) unless cultural transmission is highly unfaithful, the environment is highly variable, or social learning is much more costly than individual learning. We compare the model to empirical data on social learning and on spatial variation in primate cultures and list three requirements for adaptive culture.

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