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Rethinking Prestige Bias

Chellappoo, Azita (2020) Rethinking Prestige Bias. [Preprint]

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Some cultural evolution researchers have argued for the importance of prestige bias as a systematic and widespread social learning bias, that structures human social learning and cultural transmission patterns. Broadly speaking, prestige bias accounts understand it as a bias towards copying ‘prestigious’ individuals (which are typically described as high-status, due to a high level of skill or success in a socially valued domain, and so are treated by others with respect and deference). Prestige bias, along with other social learning biases, has been argued to pay a crucial role in allowing cumulative cultural selection to take place, thereby generating adaptations that are key to our success as a species.

However, I argue for skepticism about the plausibility and scope of a prestige bias account. I argue that although an account of prestige bias seems plausible or compelling on their face, it is committed to a particular view of the cognition underpinning the bias, and therefore to predictions regarding its flexibility and context-sensitivity. Given this, current empirical evidence gives us reason to doubt the explanatory value of a prestige bias account over a naive, goal-directed agent account. Additionally, the way that prestige is defined in empirical work is in tension with a general understanding of prestige, casting doubt upon its status as evidence of prestige bias. I examine two studies cited as evidence of prestige bias, arguing that in these cases we cannot clearly favour a prestige bias explanation over a goal-directed agent explanation.

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Item Type: Preprint
Keywords: social learning; cognition; prestige bias; cultural evolution; selection
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Cultural Evolution
Depositing User: Ms Azita Chellappoo
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2020 04:55
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2020 04:55
Item ID: 16872
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Cultural Evolution
Date: 30 January 2020

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