Cultural Macroevolution on Neighbor Graphs

Human Nature 23 (3):283-305 (2012)
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Abstract

What are the driving forces of cultural macroevolution, the evolution of cultural traits that characterize societies or populations? This question has engaged anthropologists for more than a century, with little consensus regarding the answer. We develop and fit autologistic models, built upon both spatial and linguistic neighbor graphs, for 44 cultural traits of 172 societies in the Western North American Indian (WNAI) database. For each trait, we compare models including or excluding one or both neighbor graphs, and for the majority of traits we find strong evidence in favor of a model which uses both spatial and linguistic neighbors to predict a trait’s distribution. Our results run counter to the assertion that cultural trait distributions can be explained largely by the transmission of traits from parent to daughter populations and are thus best analyzed with phylogenies. In contrast, we show that vertical and horizontal transmission pathways can be incorporated in a single model, that both transmission modes may indeed operate on the same trait, and that for most traits in the WNAI database, accounting for only one mode of transmission would result in a loss of information.

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