Publications by authors named "Thomas J H Morgan"

13 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

Foraging zebra finches () are public information users rather than conformists.

Biol Lett 2021 06 23;17(6):20200767. Epub 2021 Jun 23.

Institute of Biology, University of Leiden, 2333 BE Leiden, The Netherlands.

Social learning enables adaptive information acquisition provided that it is not random but selective. To understand species typical decision-making and to trace the evolutionary origins of social learning, the heuristics social learners use need to be identified. Here, we experimentally tested the nature of majority influence in the zebra finch. Subjects simultaneously observed two demonstrator groups differing in relative and absolute numbers (ratios 1 : 2/2 : 4/3 : 3/1 : 5) foraging from two novel food sources (black and white feeders). We find that demonstrator groups influenced observers' feeder choices (social learning), but that zebra finches did not copy the majority of individuals. Instead, observers were influenced by the foraging activity (pecks) of the demonstrators and in an anti-conformist fashion. These results indicate that zebra finches are not conformist, but are public information users.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0767DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8219404PMC
June 2021

Author Correction: Competition for priority harms the reliability of science, but reforms can help.

Nat Hum Behav 2021 Jul;5(7):954

School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01089-6DOI Listing
July 2021

Competition for priority harms the reliability of science, but reforms can help.

Nat Hum Behav 2021 Jul 28;5(7):857-867. Epub 2021 Jan 28.

School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA.

Incentives for priority of discovery are hypothesized to harm scientific reliability. Here, we evaluate this hypothesis by developing an evolutionary agent-based model of a competitive scientific process. We find that rewarding priority of discovery causes populations to culturally evolve towards conducting research with smaller samples. This reduces research reliability and the information value of the average study. Increased start-up costs for setting up single studies and increased payoffs for secondary results (also known as scoop protection) attenuate the negative effects of competition. Furthermore, large rewards for negative results promote the evolution of smaller sample sizes. Our results confirm the logical coherence of scoop protection reforms at several journals. Our results also imply that reforms to increase scientific efficiency, such as rapid journal turnaround times, may produce collateral damage by incentivizing lower-quality research; in contrast, reforms that increase start-up costs, such as pre-registration and registered reports, may generate incentives for higher-quality research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-01040-1DOI Listing
July 2021

Biased transformation erases traditions sustained by conformist transmission.

Biol Lett 2020 11 25;16(11):20200660. Epub 2020 Nov 25.

Department of Computer Science, Princeton University, 35 Olden St, Princeton, NJ 08540, USA.

Conformist transmission is a cognitively simple decision-making process by which observers are disproportionately likely to follow the majority. It has been studied in multiple species because theory suggests it can create stable cultural variation. However, the current theory assumes that while conformist transmission favours the majority, it is otherwise unbiased and does not systematically transform information, even though such biases are widely documented. Here, we relax this assumption, requiring conformist observers to infer the size of the majority from finite observations of their group mates. Because such inference can be subject to bias, it can lead to the biased transformation of transmitted information. We find that when individuals are biased (even weakly) the capacity of conformist transmission to sustain traditions is reduced and, in many cases, removed entirely. This suggests that the emphasis on conformist transmission as a source of stable cultural variation may be misplaced.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0660DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7728688PMC
November 2020

A theory limited in scope and evidence.

Behav Brain Sci 2020 08 10;43:e171. Epub 2020 Aug 10.

School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ85287.

What promised to be a refreshing addition to cumulative cultural evolution, by moving the focus from cultural transmission to technological innovation, falls flat through a lack of thoroughness, explanatory power, and data. A comprehensive theory of cumulative cultural change must carefully integrate all existing evidence in a cohesive multi-level account. We argue that the manuscript fails to do so convincingly.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X20000035DOI Listing
August 2020

Experimental evolutionary simulations of learning, memory and life history.

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2020 07 1;375(1803):20190504. Epub 2020 Jun 1.

Department of Psychology, UC Berkeley, Tolman Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.

Humans possess an unusual combination of traits, including our cognition, life history, demographics and geographical distribution. Many theories propose that these traits have coevolved. Such hypotheses have been explored both theoretically and empirically, with experiments examining whether human behaviour meets theoretical expectations. However, theory must make assumptions about the human mind, creating a potentially problematic gap between models and reality. Here, we employ a series of 'experimental evolutionary simulations' to reduce this gap and to explore the coevolution of learning, memory and childhood. The approach combines aspects of theory and experiment by inserting human participants as agents within an evolutionary simulation. Across experiments, we find that human behaviour supports the coevolution of learning, memory and childhood, but that this is dampened by rapid environmental change. We conclude by discussing both the implications of these findings for theories of human evolution and the utility of experimental evolutionary simulations more generally. This article is part of the theme issue 'Life history and learning: how childhood, caregiving and old age shape cognition and culture in humans and other animals'.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0504DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7293147PMC
July 2020

What the Baldwin Effect affects depends on the nature of plasticity.

Cognition 2020 04 17;197:104165. Epub 2020 Jan 17.

University of California, Berkeley, Department of Psychology, Tolman Hall, Berkeley 94720, United States of America.

In a process known as the Baldwin Effect, developmental plasticity, such as learning, has been argued to accelerate the biological evolution of high-fitness traits, including language and complex intelligence. Here we investigate the evolutionary consequences of developmental plasticity by asking which aspects of a plastic trait are the focus of genetic change. The aspects we consider are: (i) dependencies between elements of a trait, (ii) the importance of each element to fitness, and (iii) the difficulty of acquiring each element through plasticity. We also explore (iv) how cultural inheritance changes the relationship between plasticity and genetic change. We find that evolution by natural selection preferentially fixes elements that are depended upon by others, important to fitness, or difficult to acquire through plasticity, but that cultural inheritance can suppress and even reverse genetic change. We replicate some of these effects in experimental evolutionary simulations with human learners. We conclude that what the Baldwin Effect affects depends upon the mechanism of plasticity, which for behavior and cognition includes the psychology of learning.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104165DOI Listing
April 2020

By Reverence, Not Fear: Prestige, Religion, and Autonomic Regulation in the Evolution of Cooperation.

Front Psychol 2019 17;10:2750. Epub 2019 Dec 17.

School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, United States.

Recent evolutionary theories of religions emphasize their function as mechanisms for increasing prosociality. In particular, they claim that fear of supernatural punishment can be adaptive when it can compensate for humans' inability to monitor behavior and mete out punishment in large groups, as well when it can inhibit individuals' impulses for defection. Nonetheless, while fear of punishment may inhibit some anti-social behaviors like cheating, it is unlikely to motivate other prosocial behaviors, like helping. This is because human physiology has evolved separate neurological systems with differential behavioral correlates either for (1) processing fear and responding to threats or (2) facilitating social interactions in environments which are deemed safe. Almost all vertebrates possess autonomic pathways for processing threats and fear, which result in "fight," "flight," or "freeze" responses and so likely mediate interactions in dominance hierarchies. Mammals, however, possess an additional, phylogenetically newer, pathway dedicated to suppressing such defensive responses in the service of promoting social affiliation or engagement. Here, we argue that this mammalian physiology supports an alternative hierarchical system unique to humans: prestige. In contrast to dominance, which involves aversion, fear and shame, prestige hierarchies are characterized by physical proximity and eye-contact, as well as emotions like admiration and respect for leaders. Prestige also directs the flow of cultural information between individuals and has been argued to have evolved in order to help individuals acquire high quality information. Here, we argue that not only does the mammalian autonomic pathway support prestige hierarchies, but that coupled with prestige biased social learning, it opens up a means for prestigious figures, including deities, to support the spread of prosocial behaviors. Thus, in addition to theories that emphasizes religious fear as a motivating factor in the evolution of prosocial religions, we suggest that reverence - which includes awe and respect for, deference to, admiration of, and a desire to please a deity or supernatural agent - is likely just as important. In support of this, we identify cases of religions that appear to be defined predominantly by prestige dynamics, and not fear of supernatural punishment.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02750DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6927986PMC
December 2019

Copy-the-majority of instances or individuals? Two approaches to the majority and their consequences for conformist decision-making.

PLoS One 2019 25;14(1):e0210748. Epub 2019 Jan 25.

University of St Andrews, Westburn Lane, St Andrews, Scotland.

Cultural evolution is the product of the psychological mechanisms that underlie individual decision making. One commonly studied learning mechanism is a disproportionate preference for majority opinions, known as conformist transmission. While most theoretical and experimental work approaches the majority in terms of the number of individuals that perform a behaviour or hold a belief, some recent experimental studies approach the majority in terms of the number of instances a behaviour is performed. Here, we use a mathematical model to show that disagreement between these two notions of the majority can arise when behavioural variants are performed at different rates, with different salience or in different contexts (variant overrepresentation) and when a subset of the population act as demonstrators to the whole population (model biases). We also show that because conformist transmission changes the distribution of behaviours in a population, how observers approach the majority can cause populations to diverge, and that this can happen even when the two approaches to the majority agree with regards to which behaviour is in the majority. We discuss these results in light of existing findings, ranging from political extremism on twitter to studies of animal foraging behaviour. We conclude that the factors we considered (variant overrepresentation and model biases) are plausibly widespread. As such, it is important to understand how individuals approach the majority in order to understand the effects of majority influence in cultural evolution.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0210748PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6347471PMC
October 2019

Human mate-choice copying is domain-general social learning.

Sci Rep 2018 01 29;8(1):1715. Epub 2018 Jan 29.

School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, Westburn Lane, St Andrews, KY16 9JP, Fife, UK.

Women appear to copy other women's preferences for men's faces. This 'mate-choice copying' is often taken as evidence of psychological adaptations for processing social information related to mate choice, for which facial information is assumed to be particularly salient. No experiment, however, has directly investigated whether women preferentially copy each other's face preferences more than other preferences. Further, because prior experimental studies used artificial social information, the effect of real social information on attractiveness preferences is unknown. We collected attractiveness ratings of pictures of men's faces, men's hands, and abstract art given by heterosexual women, before and after they saw genuine social information gathered in real time from their peers. Ratings of faces were influenced by social information, but no more or less than were images of hands and abstract art. Our results suggest that evidence for domain-specific social learning mechanisms in humans is weaker than previously suggested.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-19770-8DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5788917PMC
January 2018

Sex differences in confidence influence patterns of conformity.

Br J Psychol 2017 Nov 11;108(4):655-667. Epub 2016 Nov 11.

Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, School of Biology, University of St Andrews, UK.

Lack of confidence in one's own ability can increase the likelihood of relying on social information. Sex differences in confidence have been extensively investigated in cognitive tasks, but implications for conformity have not been directly tested. Here, we tested the hypothesis that, in a task that shows sex differences in confidence, an indirect effect of sex on social information use will also be evident. Participants (N = 168) were administered a mental rotation (MR) task or a letter transformation (LT) task. After providing an answer, participants reported their confidence before seeing the responses of demonstrators and being allowed to change their initial answer. In the MR, but not the LT, task, women showed lower levels of confidence than men, and confidence mediated an indirect effect of sex on the likelihood of switching answers. These results provide novel, experimental evidence that confidence is a general explanatory mechanism underpinning susceptibility to social influences. Our results have implications for the interpretation of the wider literature on sex differences in conformity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12232DOI Listing
November 2017

The development of adaptive conformity in young children: effects of uncertainty and consensus.

Dev Sci 2015 Jul 5;18(4):511-24. Epub 2014 Oct 5.

Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, USA.

Human culture relies on extensive use of social transmission, which must be integrated with independently acquired (i.e. asocial) information for effective decision-making. Formal evolutionary theory predicts that natural selection should favor adaptive learning strategies, including a bias to copy when uncertain, and a bias to disproportionately copy the majority (known as 'conformist transmission'). Although the function and causation of these evolved strategies has been comparatively well studied, little is known of their development. We experimentally investigated the development of the bias to copy-when-uncertain and conformist transmission in children from the ages of 3 to 7, testing predictions derived from theoretical models. Children first attempted to solve a binary-choice quantity discrimination task themselves using asocial information, but were then given the decisions of informants, and an opportunity to revise their answer. We investigated whether children's revised judgments were adaptively contingent on (i) the difficulty of the trial and (ii) the degree of consensus amongst informants. As predicted, older but not younger children copied others more on more difficult trials than on easier trials, even though older children also showed a tendency to stick with their initial, asocial decision. We also found that older children, like adults, were disproportionately receptive to non-total majorities (i.e. were conformist) whereas younger children were receptive only to total (i.e. unanimous) majorities. We conclude that, whilst the mechanism for incorporating social information into decision-making is initially very blunt, across the course of early childhood it converges on the adaptive learning mechanisms observed in adults and predicted by cultural evolutionary theory. A video abstract of this article can be viewed at http://youtu.be/Qb6JINGYqVk.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/desc.12231DOI Listing
July 2015

Cognitive culture: theoretical and empirical insights into social learning strategies.

Trends Cogn Sci 2011 Feb 6;15(2):68-76. Epub 2011 Jan 6.

Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, School of Biology, University of St. Andrews, Bute Medical Building, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9TS, UK.

Research into social learning (learning from others) has expanded significantly in recent years, not least because of productive interactions between theoretical and empirical approaches. This has been coupled with a new emphasis on learning strategies, which places social learning within a cognitive decision-making framework. Understanding when, how and why individuals learn from others is a significant challenge, but one that is critical to numerous fields in multiple academic disciplines, including the study of social cognition.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2010.12.002DOI Listing
February 2011
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