An experimental simulation of the 'copy-successful-individuals' cultural learning strategy: adaptive landscapes, producer extendash scrounger dynamics, and informational access costs


An experimental simulation of cultural evolution was conducted using the virtual arrowhead task. Participants designed ‘virtual arrowheads’ and tested them in ‘virtual hunting environments’, improving their designs through either individual trial-and-error learning or by copying the design of another participant. A previous study using this task found that a cultural learning strategy of ``copy-successful-individuals’’ was significantly more adaptive than individual learning. The present study explored the robustness of this finding using the same task but under different conditions. It was found that (a) individual learning was significantly more adaptive in a unimodal adaptive landscape than in a multimodal adaptive landscape, suggesting that the adaptive advantage of cultural learning would disappear in unimodal environments; (b) the adaptive advantage of copy-successful-individuals was maintained when cultural learning was permitted at regular intervals, despite the increased opportunity for information scroungers to inhibit exploration of the environment, because participants flexibly switched between individual and cultural learning depending on circumstances; (c) allowing participants to set access costs that other participants must pay in order to view their designs severely curtailed the use of cultural learning and especially the copy-successful-individuals strategy.

Evolution and Human Behavior 29, 350–363.