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Quantifying cultural macro-evolution: a case study of the Hinoeuma fertility drop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Kohei Tamura
  • Yasuo Ihara
Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Early online date6 Aug 2016
DateAccepted/In press - 27 Jul 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 6 Aug 2016


Understanding patterns and underlying processes of human cultural diversity has been a major challenge in evolutionary anthropology. Recent developments in the study of cultural macro-evolution have illuminated various novel aspects of cultural phenomena at the population level. However, limitations in data availability have constrained previous analyses to use simplest models ignoring factors that potentially affect cultural evolutionary dynamics. Here, we focus on two such factors: accumulated effects of cultural transmission between populations over time and variation in social influence among populations. As a test case, we analyze data on the Hinoeuma fertility drop, the Japanese nation-wide drastic decline in the number of births caused by a culturally-transmitted superstition recurring every sixty years, to show that these factors do play significant roles. Specifically, our results suggest that transmission of the superstition in a short timescale has tended to occur among neighboring populations, while transmission in a long timescale is likely to have occurred between populations culturally close to each other, with the cultural closeness being measured by similarity in dialects. The results also indicate a special role played by a population occupying a center in a language-distance network (the cultural center) in the spread of the superstition.

    Research areas

  • cultural evolution, cultural macro-evolution, cultural transmission network, cultural load


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