Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

The biological bases of conformity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Humans are characterized by an extreme dependence on culturally transmitted information and recent formal theory predicts that natural selection should favor adaptive learning strategies that facilitate effective copying and decision making. One strategy that has attracted particular attention is conformist transmission, defined as the disproportionately likely adoption of the most common variant. Conformity has historically been emphasized as significant in the social psychology literature, and recently there have also been reports of conformist behavior in non-human animals. However, mathematical analyses differ in how important and widespread they expect conformity to be, and relevant experimental work is scarce, and generates findings that are both mutually contradictory and inconsistent with the predictions of the models. We review the relevant literature considering the causation, function, history, and ontogeny of conformity, and describe a computer-based experiment on human subjects that we carried out in order to resolve ambiguities. We found that only when many demonstrators were available and subjects were uncertain was subject behavior conformist. A further analysis found that the underlying response to social information alone was generally conformist. Thus, our data are consistent with a conformist use of social information, but as subjects' behavior is the result of both social and asocial influences, the resultant behavior may not be conformist. We end by relating these findings to an embryonic cognitive neuroscience literature that has recently begun to explore the neural bases of social learning. Here conformist transmission may be a particularly useful case study, not only because there are well-defined and tractable opportunities to characterize the biological underpinnings of this form of social learning, but also because early findings imply that humans may possess specific cognitive adaptations for effective social learning.
Close

Details

Original languageEnglish
Article number00087
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Volume6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2012

    Research areas

  • Conformity, Social learning, Cultural transmission, Cultural evolution

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. Social transmission favours the ‘morally good’ over the ‘merely arousing’

    Stubbersfield, J. M., Dean, L. G., Sheikh, S., Laland, K. N. & Cross, C. P., 4 Jun 2019, In : Palgrave Communications. 5, 11 p., 3.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. The reach of gene-culture coevolution in animals

    Whitehead, H., Laland, K. N., Rendell, L., Thorogood, R. & Whiten, A., 3 Jun 2019, In : Nature Communications. 10, 10 p., 2405.

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

  3. A four-questions perspective on public information use in sticklebacks (Gasterosteidae)

    Webster, M. M., Chouinard-Thuly, L., Herczeg, G., Kitano, J., Riley, R. J., Rogers, S., Shapiro, M. D., Shikano, T. & Laland, K. N., 20 Feb 2019, In : Royal Society Open Science. 6, 2, 24 p., 181735.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. Social learning strategies regulate the wisdom and madness of interactive crowds

    Toyokawa, W., Whalen, A. & Laland, K. N., Feb 2019, In : Nature Human Behaviour. 3, p. 183-193

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Identifying cortical substrates underlying the phenomenology of stereopsis and realness: a pilot fMRI study

    Uji, M., Lingnau, A., Cavin, I. & Vishwanath, D., 11 Jul 2019, In : Frontiers in Neuroscience. 13, 14 p., 646.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. All-optical assay to study biological neural networks

    Afshar Saber, W., Gasparoli, F. M., Dirks, M. G., Gunn-Moore, F. J. & Antkowiak, M., 5 Jul 2018, In : Frontiers in Neuroscience. 12, 12 p., 451.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Facial shape analysis identifies valid cues to aspects of physiological health in Caucasian, Asian and African populations

    Stephen, I. D., Hiew, V., Coetzee, V., Tiddeman, B. & Perrett, D. I., 30 Oct 2017, In : Frontiers in Neuroscience. 8, 1883.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. ASS234, as a new Multi-Target Directed propargylamine for Alzheimer’s disease therapy

    Marco-Contelles, J., Unzeta, M., Esteban, G., Ramsay, R., Romero, A., Martínez-Murillo, R., Carreiras, M. C., Ismaili, L. & Bolea, I., 28 Jun 2016, In : Frontiers in Neuroscience. 10, 7 p., 294.

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

  5. Drug design for CNS diseases: polypharmacological profiling of compounds using cheminformatic, 3D-QSAR and virtual screening methodologies

    Nikolic, K., Mavridis, L., Djikic, T., Vukicevic, J., Agbaba, D., Yelekci, K. & Mitchell, J. B. O., 10 Jun 2016, In : Frontiers in Neuroscience. 10, p. 18-38 21 p., 265.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

ID: 130505516