Repository logo

Cultural evolution with uncertain provision of learning resources

Accepted version



Change log


Ladas, K 
Kavadias, Stylianos  ORCID logo
Hutchison-Krupat, J 


An essential feature of human progress is the use of different modes of learning so agents acquire the appropriate behaviour to survive in a changing environment. Learning may result from agents who discover new knowledge on their own (individual learning) or imitate the behaviour of others (social learning). Social learning is less costly than discovery, but imitation might yield no benefit. Early theoretical models of a population consisting of purely individual and purely social learners found that both types are present in an evolutionary equilibrium. However, the presence of social learners did not provide any improvement to the average population fitness. Subsequent research showed the presence of social learners could improve the average population fitness, provided the pure characterisation of the agents’ learning is relaxed. We return to the pure conceptualisation of agents to challenge an assumption in the early work: agents were guaranteed enough resources to perform their desired learning. We show that, if the resources an agent receives are uncertain, this turns social learning into a source of fitness improvement at the population level. Perhaps counter-intuitively, uncertain provision of resources prompts an increase in the proportion of the population who pursue the costlier–individual learning–activity in equilibrium.



4301 Archaeology, 4401 Anthropology, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology, 44 Human Society

Journal Title

Evolutionary Human Sciences

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Cambridge University Press