Signs of universality in the structure of culture


Understanding the dynamics of opinions, preferences and of culture as whole requires more use of empirical data than has been done so far. It is clear that an important role in driving this dynamics is played by social influence, which is the essential ingredient of many quantitative models. Such models require that all traits are fixed when specifying the “initial cultural state”. Typically, this initial state is randomly generated, from a uniform distribution over the set of possible combinations of traits. However, recent work has shown that the outcome of social influence dynamics strongly depends on the nature of the initial state. If the latter is sampled from empirical data instead of being generated in a uniformly random way, a higher level of cultural diversity is found after long-term dynamics, for the same level of propensity towards collective behavior in the short-term. Moreover, if the initial state is randomized by shuffling the empirical traits among people, the level of long-term cultural diversity is in-between those obtained for the empirical and uniformly random counterparts. The current study repeats the analysis for multiple empirical data sets, showing that the results are remarkably similar, although the matrix of correlations between cultural variables clearly differs across data sets. This points towards robust structural properties inherent in empirical cultural states, possibly due to universal laws governing the dynamics of culture in the real world. The results also suggest that this dynamics might be characterized by criticality and involve mechanisms beyond social influence.


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Correspondence to Alexandru-Ionuţ Băbeanu.

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Băbeanu, AI., Talman, L. & Garlaschelli, D. Signs of universality in the structure of culture. Eur. Phys. J. B 90, 237 (2017).

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  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics