The secret to why some cultures thrive and others disappear may lie in our social networks* and our ability to imitate, rather than our individual smarts, according to a new University of British Columbia study.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy: Biological Sciences (open access), shows that when people can observe and learn from a wider range of teachers, groups can better maintain technical skills and even increase the group’s average skill over successive generations.
The findings show that a larger population size and social connectedness are crucial for the development of more sophisticated technologies and cultural knowledge, says lead author Michael Muthukrishna, a PhD student in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology.
“This is the first study to demonstrate in a laboratory setting what archeologists and evolutionary theorists have long suggested: that there is an important link between a society’s sociality and the sophistication of its technology,” says Muthukrishna, who co-authored the research with UBC Prof. Joseph Henrich.