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Conformists and Mavericks: The Empirics of Frequency-Dependent Cultural Transmission
Evolution and Human Behavior
Conformity is a type of social learning that has received considerable attention among social psychologists and human evolutionary ecologists, but existing empirical research does not identify conformity cleanly. Conformity is more than just a tendency to follow the majority; it involves an exaggerated tendency to follow the majority. The "exaggerated" part of this definition ensures that conformists do not show just any bias toward the majority, but a bias sufficiently strong to increase the size of the majority through time. This definition of conformity is compelling because it is the only form of frequency-dependent social influence that produces behaviorally homogeneous social groups. We conducted an experiment to see if players were conformists by separating individual and social learners. Players chose between two technologies repeatedly. Payoffs were random, but one technology had a higher expected payoff. Individual learners knew their realized payoffs after each choice, while social learners only knew the distribution of choices among individual learners. A subset of social learners behaved according to a classic model of conformity. The remaining social learners did not respond to frequency information. They were neither conformists nor nonconformists, but mavericks. Given this heterogeneity in learning strategies, a tendency to conform increased earnings dramatically.
Cultural transmission, Conformity, Social learning
Web of science
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