Cultural specialization as a double-edged sword: Division into specialized guilds might promote cultural complexity at the cost of higher susceptibility to cultural loss

Yotam Ben-Oren*, Oren Kolodny*, Nicole Creanza*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

The transition to specialization of knowledge within populations could have facilitated the accumulation of cultural complexity in humans. Specialization allows populations to increase their cultural repertoire without requiring that members of that population increase their individual capacity to accumulate knowledge. However, specialization also means that domain-specific knowledge can be concentrated in small subsets of the population, making it more susceptible to loss. Here, we use a model of cultural evolution to demonstrate that specialized populations can be more sensitive to stochastic loss of knowledge than populations without subdivision of knowledge, and that demographic and environmental changes have an amplified effect on populations with knowledge specialization. Finally, we suggest that specialization can be a double-edged sword; specialized populations may have an advantage in accumulating cultural traits but may also be less likely to expand and establish themselves successfully in new demes owing to the increased cultural loss that they experience during the population bottlenecks that often characterize such expansions. This article is part of the theme issue 'Human socio-cultural evolution in light of evolutionary transitions'.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number20210418
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume378
Issue number1872
DOIs
StatePublished - 13 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors.

Keywords

  • cultural accumulation
  • cultural evolution
  • guilds

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