Rethinking prestige bias
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Chellappoo, A. (2020). Rethinking prestige bias. Synthese, 198 (9), 8191-8212. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-020-02565-8
Abstract: 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.
The Cultural Evolution of Human Social Cognition, Cultural evolution, Prestige, Bias, Cognition, Social learning
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-020-02565-8
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/329621