Modeling Cultural Dynamics

Liane Gabora

EVOC (for EVOlution of Culture) is a computer model of culture that enables us to investigate how various factors such as barriers to cultural diffusion, the presence and choice of leaders, or changes in the ratio of innovation to imitation affect the diversity and effectiveness of ideas. It consists of neural network based agents that invent ideas for actions, and imitate neighbors’ actions. The model is based on a theory of culture according to which what evolves through culture is not memes or artifacts, but the internal models of the world that give rise to them, and they evolve not through a Darwinian process of competitive exclusion but a Lamarckian process involving exchange of innovation protocols. EVOC shows an increase in mean fitness of actions over time, and an increase and then decrease in the diversity of actions. Diversity of actions is positively correlated with population size and density, and with barriers between populations. Slowly eroding borders increase fitness without sacrificing diversity by fostering specialization followed by sharing of fit actions. Introducing a leader that broadcasts its actions throughout the population increases the fitness of actions but reduces diversity of actions. Increasing the number of leaders reduces this effect. Efforts are underway to simulate the conditions under which an agent immigrating from one culture to another contributes new ideas while still 'fitting in'.

Submitted: Sep 12, 2008