An Experimental Investigation of the Role of Collaboration in the Evolution of Communication Systems

Abstract

Imitation alone cannot explain language evolution. Two additional ingredients have been proposed that may help explain the evolution of language systems: learning biases and social collaboration. An experimental method was developed that isolated the roles of collaboration and learning biases in the development of novel communication systems. Participants played a Pictionary-like task to develop ad hoc graphical communication systems in one of two conditions: one in which they interacted with a partner (Interaction condition), and one in which they received the same images from a “pseudo-partner” but did not interact (Pseudo-Interaction condition). Comparison of the resultant communication systems showed that the Interaction condition yielded higher identification accuracy, greater refinement of graphical signs and more alignment on a set of shared graphical signs (in fact, graphical alignment did not occur at all in the Pseudo-Interaction condition). Thus, collaboration plays a crucial role in the evolution of human communication systems.


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