Linguistics and English Language

Language evolution seminar

Speaker: Mark Atkinson (University of Stirling)

Title: Inference, perspective taking, and cumulative cultural evolution

Abstract: Many human cultural traits become increasingly beneficial to their users as they are repeatedly transmitted, thanks to an accumulation of modifications made by successive generations. Learners typically modify the traits they observe in ways which make them more beneficial. But how do learners do this given that cumulative cultural evolution produces behaviours which are increasingly improbably as individual discoveries? And despite information bottlenecks which restrict the learner’s exposure to previously sampled behaviours?

I’ll present two investigations looking into how the effect of these bottlenecks can be mitigated. Firstly, in a series of experiments involving adult participants, we assess whether learners are (a) sensitive to cues of non-random production in the restricted information they observe, and (b) able to use those cues to infer and avoid other behaviours (behaviours the learner was not directly exposed to) which have already been sampled and rejected. Secondly, using adult participants, we assess the effect of the demonstrator intentionally selecting the restricted information to be observed by the learner. A follow up study with 5- to 10-year-old children then investigates how this intentional information sharing changes over development.


Seminars are organised by the Centre for Language Evolution

Andres Karjus

Centre for Language Evolution

Feb 18 2020 -

Language evolution seminar

2020-02-18: Inference, perspective taking, and cumulative cultural evolution

Room G32, Psychology Building, 7 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ