Partial connectivity increases cultural accumulation within groups

Maxime Derex, Robert Boyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


Complex technologies used in most human societies are beyond the inventive capacities of individuals. Instead, they result from a cumulative process in which innovations are gradually added to existing cultural traits across many generations. Recent work suggests that a population's ability to develop complex technologies is positively affected by its size and connectedness. Here, we present a simple computer-based experiment that compares the accumulation of innovations by fully and partially connected groups of the same size in a complex fitness landscape. We find that the propensity to learn from successful individuals drastically reduces cultural diversity within fully connected groups. In comparison, partially connected groups produce more diverse solutions, and this diversity allows them to develop complex solutions that are never produced in fully connected groups. These results suggest that explanations of ancestral patterns of cultural complexity may need to consider levels of population fragmentation and interaction patterns between partially isolated groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2982-2987
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 15 2016


  • Cultural evolution
  • Innovation
  • Population size
  • Social network
  • Technological trajectory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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