Pecha Kucha talks

Pecha Kucha talks are short presentations that last 10 min overall and whose slides switch automatically every 30 sec. Each day, there is a block of three Pecha Kucha talks, after which there is time for discussion.

Pecha Kucha talk 1

R. A. Harrison1, E. J. C. van Leeuwen & A. Whiten, 1University of St Andrews

Innovative and flexible tool-based solutions in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in response to a changing foraging task

Innovation, behavioural flexibility and social learning are key factors facilitating cumulative culture. Recent studies (eg. Lehner, Burkart, & van Schaik, 2011) suggest great apes may possess a greater capacity for behavioural flexibility than previously indicated (eg. Marshall-Pescini & Whiten, 2008). Chimpanzees at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, Zambia (N=12) were provided a novel foraging task (a tube partially filled with juice) and a selection of tool materials. After 10 hours, a narrower tube was presented, restricting available solutions. After a further 20 hours, frequently used materials were removed, again restricting the solutions available. 6379 individual attempts were made. Preliminary results indicate that chimpanzees flexibly altered their choice of tool material in response to the change in tube width (use of hands and cloth decreased while use of sticks increased) in line with success rates of each tool material. A subset of chimpanzees (N=4) used innovative composite tool techniques (using sticks to insert and retrieve absorbent materials), and one individual then modified these techniques when preferred materials were removed. These findings indicate that, under certain conditions, chimpanzees may be capable of the innovation and behavioural flexibility necessary to support the evolution of cumulative culture.


Pecha Kucha talk 2

Helena Milton, Central European University, Budapest

Statistical variability in cultural transmission studies: why and how to exploit it

In the study of cumulative cultural evolution, transmission chains, replacement, and closed group methods have recently become a major experimental tool (e.g., Bartlett, 1932; Caldwell & Millen, 2008; Miton, Claidière & Mercier, 2015). I argue that these experiments can be mined to yield even more theoretically relevant information than what is commonly assumed and reported. Currently, how variable or diverse are the productions of participants along generations is most often reported as an aggregated measure, either on all the generations, or – at best – on a few generations at different points along the chains. Paying greater attention to measures of variability (i.e., standard deviation) in participants’ production generation by generation would allow to evaluate the degree to which diversity is maintained through the passing of time. Reasons to pay attention to variability are two-fold. First, the ability of different mechanisms (e.g., emulation, teaching) to maintain diversity within a population and through time can have fitness-enhancing consequences. Second, variability should be considered as relevant (like performance or fidelity are) (1) when arguing for (or against) the existence of a ‘ratchet’ effect, and (2) in measures of the degree to which cultural transmission secures the cumulative character of human culture.


Pecha Kucha talk 3

James Walker1 & David Clinnick, 1McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge

Reviewing the evidence of cumulative culture in the Howieson’s Poort sub-phase of the Middle Stone Age

The unique archaeological record of the Howieson’s Poort attests to a brief (c. 5000 year), but precocious period across southern Africa between 65 and 60kya. Although various questions relating to the industry remain unresolved, doubts as to the cognitive modernity of its makers have been put to rest by the sheer diversity of cultural materials that have been excavated from Howieson’s Poort deposits. The presence of these diverse archaeological materials amounts to a conspicuous case of cumulative culture prior to the Upper Palaeolithic. This paper presents the results of a study designed to scrutinise the evidence of cumulative culture within key Howieson’s Poort assemblages. In so doing, we raise several issues relating to how archaeologists approach the issue of cumulative culture in the past as well as the implications that such a critique has to the narratives surrounding the timing and evidence of behavioural modernity.


Pecha Kucha talk 4

Miriam Haidle & Michael Bolus, Research centre “The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans” ROCEEH, Heidelberg Academy of  Sciences and Humanities, Frankfurt/M.

From cultural accumulation to donated culture – archaeological hints on cumulative culture

The concept of cumulative culture is based on shared intentionality documented in human children, but not in great apes. It pursues a presence-absence approach; linkage to material evidence of cultural development is sparse. A thought experiment, called the ‘Island Test’, suggests that Early Stone Age tools did not need high-fidelity transmission and thus don’t show evidence of CC. In contrast, we suggest a gradual approach based on the EECC model of the evolution and expansion of cultural capacities. Three grades of CC are proposed:

–              Cultural accumulation with a weak cumulative effect and low developmental speed. The learning environment is enriched, modular cultural capacities allow the recombination of learned modules. Emulation, imitation, and simple assistance support individual learning.

–              With simple donated culture the cumulative effect is extended. Composite cultural capacities allow the recombination of solutions, their transformation and transfer to new problems. Transmission of knowledge is intended and supported by teaching of examples.

–              Advanced donated culture shows a strong cumulative effect with high developmental speed. Complementary and notional cultural capacities require formal teaching, allowing to leap learning steps, develop individual specializations, and find new applications of concepts.


Pecha Kucha talk 5

Takao Sasaki & Dora Biro, University of Oxford

From collective to cumulative intelligence in animal groups

Studies of collective intelligence in animal groups typically focus on one-off performance, overlooking potential improvement through learning which can feed back into subsequent decisions. Although such accumulation of knowledge has been recognised as a major advantage of group living within the framework of Cumulative Cultural Evolution (CCE), the interplay between CCE and collective intelligence has remained unexplored. In the present study, we used pigeons, Columba livia, to investigate cumulative aspects of collective intelligence during the solving of a spatial task (homing) by adapting methods developed for testing CCE in human subjects. Generational succession was simulated through the repeated removal and replacement of pigeons within experimental groups, and the groups’ solution efficiency was quantified at each stage. We found that homing performance improved continuously (i.e. routes became shorter) over generations, and later-generation groups eventually outperformed solo individuals who had had the same number of flights. Moreover, homing routes were more similar in consecutive generations within the same chains than between chains, indicating that knowledge was transferred across generations. Our findings thus show that collective intelligence in animal groups can exhibit “time depth”, or the capacity to accumulate progressive modifications over time. Furthermore, our results satisfy the main criteria for CCE and suggest potential mechanisms for CCE that do not rely on complex cognition.


Pecha Kucha talk 6

Michael Muthukrishna, London School of Economics

Innovation in the Collective Brain

Innovation is often assumed to be the work of a talented few, whose products are passed on to the masses. I argue that innovations are instead an emergent property of our species’ cultural learning abilities, applied within our societies and social networks. Our societies and social networks act as “collective brains”. I will outline how many human brains, which evolved primarily for the acquisition of culture, together beget a collective brain. Within these collective brains, the three main sources of innovation are serendipity, recombination, and incremental improvement. I argue that rates of innovation are heavily influenced by (1) sociality, (2) transmission fidelity and (3) cultural variance. I will discuss some of the forces that affect these factors. These factors can also shape each other. For example, I will present preliminary evidence that transmission efficiency is affected by sociality—languages with more speakers are more efficient. Collective brains can make each of their constituent “cultural brains” more innovative. This perspective sheds light on traits, such as IQ, that have been implicated in innovation. A collective brain perspective can help us understand otherwise puzzling findings in the IQ literature, including group differences, heritability differences, and the dramatic increase in IQ test scores over time.