No, it’s not about Facebook, we have been having social networks long before we could give an online thumbs up, still being connected can help to get smarter. 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.
From the press release:
The study, published today by the Proceedings of the Royal Academy: Biological Sciences, 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 level 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.
For the study, participants were asked to learn new skills – digital photo editing and knot-tying – and then pass on what they learned to the next “generation” of participants. The groups with greater access to experts accumulated significantly more skill than those with less access to teachers. Within ten “generations,” each member of the group with multiple mentors had stronger skills than the group limited to a single mentor.
Groups with greater access to experts also retained their skills much longer than groups who began with less access to mentors, sustaining higher levels of “cultural knowledge” over multiple generations.
According to the researchers, the study has important implications for several areas, from skills development and education to protecting endangered languages and cultural practices.
Abstract of the research that can be read for free at this moment:
Archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence suggests a link between a population’s size and structure, and the diversity or sophistication of its toolkits or technologies. Addressing these patterns, several evolutionary models predict that both the size and social interconnectedness of populations can contribute to the complexity of its cultural repertoire. Some models also predict that a sudden loss of sociality or of population will result in subsequent losses of useful skills/technologies. Here, we test these predictions with two experiments that permit learners to access either one or five models (teachers). Experiment 1 demonstrates that naive participants who could observe five models, integrate this information and generate increasingly effective skills (using an image editing tool) over 10 laboratory generations, whereas those with access to only one model show no improvement. Experiment 2, which began with a generation of trained experts, shows how learners with access to only one model lose skills (in knot-tying) more rapidly than those with access to five models. In the final generation of both experiments, all participants with access to five models demonstrate superior skills to those with access to only one model. These results support theoretical predictions linking sociality to cumulative cultural evolution.
2 thoughts on “Research: Social networks make us smarter”
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Direct in het oog gesprongen:
* – “why some cultures thrive and others disappear may lie in our social networks and our ability to imitate, rather than our individual smarts”. En * – “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 level over successive generations”.
Learning by OBSERVATION and IMITATION: dagelijks verwonder ik er me over hoe ongelooflijk krachtig en snel kleine kinderen (in mijn omgeving: tussen 3 en 8 jaar) ‘wijs’ worden, leren ‘leven’, andersgezegd participeren door en in ‘cultuur’ in de breedste betekenis van het woord. Hoe meer mentoren, noem het goede ‘meesters’, hoe meer voorbeelden die (kunnen) trekken. Binnen uitdijende cirkels van ‘veiligheid’, in de warmste en open betekenis van het woord, met respect voor heel veel ‘groei’ in vele aspecten en richtingen, denk ik erbij. … kspreek in abstracties: who cares, mijn blog is mijn (open) personal digital notitieblok, streaming consciousness. Mentaal bewaarmiddel. – ‘Mentaal’: gisteren deed ik mee aan een studie voor een “mentaal woordenboek” (van Smallworldofwords.com, dat woord zat nog in mijn hoofd). voor wie dit zou lezen: doet u ook mee? Het gaat over woordassociaties, in enkele minuutjes.
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