Why are groups important to evolution

Cultural evolution : The larger the group, the more complex the culture becomes

This is especially true for the early days of mankind, but also in the Middle Ages, write researchers working with Maxime Derex from the University of Montpellier II in the journal "Nature".

Derex and her colleagues divided 366 test subjects into groups of two, four, eight and sixteen players and had them solve two differently difficult tasks on the computer. For the simple task you should connect dots in 15 steps to form an arrowhead. For the heavy one, they had to create a fishing net in 39 steps.

Small groups consistently coped well with the simple task, but worsened over time with the difficult one. The larger groups improved in the simple task, the performance in the difficult task remained constant. “These players were able to draw on more examples for solving the tasks and thus learned more quickly from their fellow players,” says Derex.

The results demonstrated how group size affects cultural evolution. The importance of passing on knowledge became particularly evident when the population was decimated in earlier times by diseases or natural disasters. Then not only were important skills lost, the whole society often collapsed. It is unclear whether the findings are still applicable today: "The Internet and modern communication have changed the way cultural techniques are passed on." wsa

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