Modelling effects of inter-group contact on links between population size and cultural complexity

Yotam Ben-Oren, Sarah Saxton Strassberg, Erella Hovers, Oren Kolodny*, Nicole Creanza*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Human populations rely on cultural artefacts for their survival. Populations vary dramatically in the size of their tool repertoires, and the determinants of these cultural repertoire sizes have been the focus of extensive study. A prominent hypothesis, supported by computational models of cultural evolution, asserts that tool repertoire size increases with population size. However, not all empirical studies have found such a correlation, leading to a contentious and ongoing debate. As a possible resolution to this longstanding controversy, we suggest that accounting for even rare cultural migration events that allow sharing of knowledge between different-sized populations may help explain why a population’s size might not always predict its cultural repertoire size. Using an agent-based model to test assumptions about the effects of population size and connectivity on tool repertoires, we find that cultural exchange between a focal population and others, particularly with large populations, may significantly boost its tool repertoire size. Thus, two populations of identical size may have drastically different tool repertoire sizes, hinging upon their access to other groups’ knowledge. Intermittent contact between populations boosts cultural repertoire size and still allows for the development of unique tool repertoires that have limited overlap between populations.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number20230020
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 19 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • connectivity
  • cultural evolution
  • innovation
  • migration
  • population size


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