Population Size and Cultural Evolution in Nonindustrial Food-Producing Societies

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Collard M, Ruttle A, Buchanan B, O’Brien MJ (2013) Population Size and Cultural Evolution in Nonindustrial Food-Producing Societies. PLoS ONE 8(9): e72628. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072628

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Modeling work suggests that population size affects cultural evolution such that larger populations can be expected to have richer and more complex cultural repertoires than smaller populations. Empirical tests of this hypothesis, however, have yielded conflicting results. Here, we report a study in which we investigated whether the subsistence toolkits of small-scale food-producers are influenced by population size in the manner the hypothesis predicts. We applied simple linear and standard multiple regression analysis to data from 40 nonindustrial farming and pastoralist groups to test the hypothesis. Results were consistent with predictions of the hypothesis: both the richness and the complexity of the toolkits of the food-producers were positively and significantly influenced by population size in the simple linear regression analyses. The multiple regression analyses demonstrated that these relationships are independent of the effects of risk of resource failure, which is the other main factor that has been found to influence toolkit richness and complexity in nonindustrial groups. Thus, our study strongly suggests that population size influences cultural evolution in nonindustrial food-producing populations.

Document type: 
Canada Research Chairs Program
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
Canada Foundation for Innovation
British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund
Simon Fraser University