Migration, acculturation, and the maintenance of between-group cultural variation


How do migration and acculturation (i.e. psychological or behavioral change resulting from migration) affect within- and between-group cultural variation? Here I address this question by drawing analogies between genetic and cultural evolution. Population genetic models show that migration rapidly breaks down between-group genetic structure. In cultural evolution, however, migrants or their descendants can acculturate to local behaviors via social learning processes such as conformity, potentially preventing migration from eliminating between-group cultural variation. An analysis of the empirical literature on migration suggests that acculturation is common, with second and subsequent migrant generations shifting, sometimes substantially, towards the cultural values of the adopted society. Yet there is little understanding of the individual-level dynamics that underlie these population-level shifts. To explore this formally, I present models quantifying the effect of migration and acculturation on between-group cultural variation, for both neutral and costly cooperative traits. In the models, between-group cultural variation, measured using F statistics, is eliminated by migration and maintained by conformist acculturation. The extent of acculturation is determined by the strength of conformist bias and the number of demonstrators from whom individuals learn. Acculturation is countered by assortation, the tendency for individuals to preferentially interact with culturally-similar others. Unlike neutral traits, cooperative traits can additionally be maintained by payoff-biased social learning, but only in the presence of strong sanctioning mechanisms (e.g. institutions). Overall, the models show that surprisingly little conformist acculturation is required to maintain realistic amounts of between-group cultural diversity. While these models provide insight into the potential dynamics of acculturation and migration in cultural evolution, they also highlight the need for more empirical research into the individual-level learning biases that underlie migrant acculturation.