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Conformists and mavericks: the empirics of frequency-dependent cultural transmission


Efferson, Charles; Lalive, Rafael; Richerson, Peter J; McElreath, Richard; Lubell, Mark (2008). Conformists and mavericks: the empirics of frequency-dependent cultural transmission. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29(1):56-64.

Abstract

Conformity is a type of social learning that has received considerable attention among social psychologists and human evolutionary ecologists, but existing empirical research does not identify conformity cleanly. Conformity is more than just a tendency to follow the majority; it involves an exaggerated tendency to follow the majority. The “exaggerated” part of this definition ensures that conformists do not show just any bias toward the majority, but a bias sufficiently strong to increase the size of the majority through time. This definition of conformity is compelling because it is the only form of frequency-dependent social influence that produces behaviorally
homogeneous social groups. We conducted an experiment to see if players were conformists by separating individual and social learners. Players chose between two technologies repeatedly. Payoffs were random, but one technology had a higher expected payoff. Individual learners knew their realized payoffs after each choice, while social learners only knew the distribution of choices among individual learners. A subset of social learners behaved according to a classic model of conformity. The remaining social learners did not respond to frequency information. They were
neither conformists nor non-conformists, but mavericks. Given this heterogeneity in learning strategies, a tendency to conform increased earnings dramatically.

Abstract

Conformity is a type of social learning that has received considerable attention among social psychologists and human evolutionary ecologists, but existing empirical research does not identify conformity cleanly. Conformity is more than just a tendency to follow the majority; it involves an exaggerated tendency to follow the majority. The “exaggerated” part of this definition ensures that conformists do not show just any bias toward the majority, but a bias sufficiently strong to increase the size of the majority through time. This definition of conformity is compelling because it is the only form of frequency-dependent social influence that produces behaviorally
homogeneous social groups. We conducted an experiment to see if players were conformists by separating individual and social learners. Players chose between two technologies repeatedly. Payoffs were random, but one technology had a higher expected payoff. Individual learners knew their realized payoffs after each choice, while social learners only knew the distribution of choices among individual learners. A subset of social learners behaved according to a classic model of conformity. The remaining social learners did not respond to frequency information. They were
neither conformists nor non-conformists, but mavericks. Given this heterogeneity in learning strategies, a tendency to conform increased earnings dramatically.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Language:English
Date:January 2008
Deposited On:20 Nov 2008 13:20
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:28
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:1090-5138
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2007.08.003

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