The capacity for culture is clearly a critical factor underlying the success of our species, but how and why did it evolve? What are the selection pressures that favoured the evolution of cultural capabilities (e.g. social learning, innovation, teaching), and how has selection fashioned these to operate efficiently? The study of such abilities is central to a broad range of disciplines, and significant progress in the scientific understanding of their origin and operation will ripple out to exert considerable influence, both within and outside academia. This project utilises a broad but integrated package of highly innovative empirical and theoretical techniques, including the development of novel analytical tools that allow behavioural researchers to identify social learning and predict the diffusion of innovations, application of potentially revolutionary statistical methods for inferring causal influences on the evolution of brain and culture from correlational data, and a new empirical system providing an unparalleled opportunity to investigate the evolution and biological basis of social learning. I will also organize international competitions to identify effective social learning rules ( tournaments ), in which entrants each propose learning strategies that are pitted against each other in computer simulation, and the most effective wins a prize. Collectively, the projects offer a major step forward in our understanding of human evolution, adaptation and culture and will stimulate considerable interdisciplinary exchange.
Call for proposal
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