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Flexible learning, rather than inveterate innovation or copying, drives cumulative knowledge gain

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Abstract

Human technology is characterized by cumulative cultural knowledge gain, yet researchers have limited knowledge of the mix of copying and innovation that maximizes progress. Here, we analyze a unique large-scale dataset originating from collaborative online programming competitions to investigate, in a setting of real-world complexity, how individual differences in innovation, social-information use, and performance generate technological progress. We find that cumulative knowledge gain is primarily driven by pragmatists, willing to copy, innovate, explore, and take risks flexibly, rather than by pure innovators or habitual copiers. Our study also reveals a key role for prestige in information transfer.

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbereaaz0286
Number of pages10
JournalScience Advances
Volume6
Issue number23
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2020

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