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Description: The unique cumulative nature of human culture has often been explained by high-fidelity copying mechanisms found only in human social learning. However, transmission chain experiments in human and non-human primates suggest that cumulative cultural evolution (CCE) might not be dependent on high-fidelity copying after all. In this study we test whether CCE is possible even with a non-copying task. We performed transmission chain experiments in Guinea baboons and human children where individuals observed and reproduced visual patterns composed of four squares on touch screen devices. In order to be rewarded, participants had to avoid touching squares that were touched by a previous participant. In other words, they were rewarded for innovation rather than copying. Results nevertheless exhibited three fundamental properties of CCE: an increase over generations in task performance, the emergence of systematic structure and the presence of lineage specificity. However, CCE arose from different mechanisms across species: children, unlike baboons, converged in behaviour over generations by copying specific patterns but in a different location, thus introducing alternative copying mechanisms into the non-copying task. We conclude that CCE can result from mechanisms with varying degrees of fidelity in transmission and thus that high-fidelity copying is not the key to the build-up of CCE.

License: CC-By Attribution 4.0 International


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