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Innovation in the collective brain

Muthukrishna, Michael and Henrich, Joseph (2016) Innovation in the collective brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371 (1690). ISSN 0962-8436

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Identification Number: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0192

Abstract

Innovation is often assumed to be the work of a talented few, whose products are passed on to the masses. Here we argue that innovations are instead an emergent property of our species’ cultural learning abilities, applied within our societies and social networks. Our societies and social networks act as collective brains. We outline how many human brains, which evolved primarily for the acquisition of culture, together beget a collective brain. Within these collective brains, the three main sources of innovation are serendipity, recombination, and incremental improvement. We argue that rates of innovation are heavily influenced by (1) sociality, (2) transmission fidelity and (3) cultural variance. We discuss some of the forces that affect these factors. These factors can also shape each other. For example, we provide preliminary evidence that transmission efficiency is affected by sociality—languages with more speakers are more efficient. We argue that collective brains can make each of their constituent cultural brains more innovative. This perspective sheds light on traits, such as IQ, that have been implicated in innovation. A collective brain perspective can help us understand otherwise puzzling findings in the IQ literature, including group differences, heritability differences, and the dramatic increase in IQ test scores over time.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/
Additional Information: © 2016 The Authors
Divisions: Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Sets: Departments > Social Psychology
Departments > Psychological and Behavioural Science
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2016 14:12
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2020 02:09
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/65118

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