Iterated Learning and the Cultural Ratchet


How does the behavior of individuals in a society influence whether knowledge accumulates over generations? We explore this question using a simple model of cultural evolution as a process of ``iterated learning,'' where each agent in a sequence learns and passes on a piece of information. Using both mathematical analyses involving rational Bayesian agents and laboratory experiments with human participants, we vary whether agents observe data from the environment and what kind of information they receive from the previous agent. Our mathematical and empirical results both suggest that merely observing the behavior of other learners is not sufficient to produce cumulative cultural evolution, but that knowledge can be accumulated over generations when agents are able to communicate the plausibility of different hypotheses.

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