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Cultural evolution by capital accumulation

Abstract : In this article, we model cultural knowledge as a capital in which individuals invest at a cost. To this end, following other models of cultural evolution, we explicitly consider the investments made by individuals in culture as life history decisions. Our aim is to understand what then determines the dynamics of cultural accumulation. We show that culture can accumulate provided it improves the efficiency of people's lives in such a way as to increase their productivity or, said differently, provided the knowledge created by previous generations improves the ability of subsequent generations to invest in new knowledge. Our central message is that this positive feedback allowing cultural accumulation can occur for many different reasons. It can occur if cultural knowledge increases people's productivity, including in domains that have no connection with knowledge, because it frees up time that people can then spend learning and/or innovating. We also show that it can occur if cultural knowledge, and thus the higher level of resources that results from increased productivity, leads individuals to modify their life history decisions through phenotypic plasticity. Finally, we show that it can occur if technical knowledge reduces the effective cost of its own acquisition via division of labour. These results suggest that culture should not be defined only as a set of knowledge and skills but, more generally, as all the capital that has been produced by previous generations and that continues to affect current generations.
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https://jeannicod.ccsd.cnrs.fr/ijn_03038278
Contributor : Charlotte Bultel <>
Submitted on : Thursday, December 3, 2020 - 1:57:26 PM
Last modification on : Friday, July 2, 2021 - 9:58:02 AM

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Jean-Baptiste André, Nicolas Baumard. Cultural evolution by capital accumulation. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 2020, 2, ⟨10.1017/ehs.2020.19⟩. ⟨ijn_03038278⟩

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