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Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age$
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Alberto Acerbi

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198835943

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198835943.001.0001

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Wary learners

Wary learners

(p.21) 2 Wary learners
Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age

Alberto Acerbi

Oxford University Press

Cultural evolution is a diverse field of research, but some similarities can be found: cultural evolutionists defend a quantitative, naturalistic, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of human culture. Importantly, cultural evolutionists are committed to develop sound hypotheses about the individual psychology that drives our cultural behavior. Although there are different nuances, a common idea is that human cognition is specialized for processing social interactions, communication, and learning from others. From an evolutionary point of view, the cognitive mechanisms involved should produce, on average, adaptive outcomes. From this perspective, social learning strategies (a series of relatively simple, general-domain, heuristics to choose when, what, and from whom to copy) provide a first boundary to indiscriminate social influence. I critically examine the concept of social learning strategies, and I discuss how cultural evolutionists may have overestimated both the effect of social influence and, possibly, our reliance of social learning itself. I also discuss the perspective from epistemic vigilance theory, which gives more weight to the possibility of explicit deception, and proposes that we apply sophisticated cognitive operations when deciding whether to trust information coming from others.

Keywords:   population thinking, social learning, social learning strategies, transmission biases, social influence, conformity, authority, epistemic vigilance

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