, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 288-294

Iterated learning: Intergenerational knowledge transmission reveals inductive biases

Abstract

Cultural transmission of information plays a central role in shaping human knowledge. Some of the most complex knowledge that people acquire, such as languages or cultural norms, can only be learned from other people, who themselves learned from previous generations. The prevalence of this process of “iterated learning” as a mode of cultural transmission raises the question of how it affects the information being transmitted. Analyses of iterated learning utilizing the assumption that the learners are Bayesian agents predict that this process should converge to an equilibrium that reflects the inductive biases of the learners. An experiment in iterated function learning with human participants confirmed this prediction, providing insight into the consequences of intergenerational knowledge transmission and a method for discovering the inductive biases that guide human inferences.

This research was partially supported by a research award from the Louisiana Board of Regents and NSF Grant BCS-0544705 to M.L.K., by NSF Grant BCS-0704034 to T.L.G., and by a Discovery Grant from the Australian Research Council to S.L.