Emulation, (Over)imitation and Social Creation of Cultural Information

  • Laura Desirèe Di Paolo
  • Fabio Di Vincenzo
Part of the Interdisciplinary Evolution Research book series (IDER)


The creation of cultural information by humans is an ability that requires to compound together different factors. Although information needs to be transmitted faithfully enough so to prevent errors, space must be left to create innovations at the same time.

Individual trial and error is the principal source of innovations among all primate species, especially in emulative contexts, but it does not explain the quantity, quality or rapidity of human cultural production. On the other hand, imitation and (over)imitation explain quite well faithful transmission and error control but do not explain the creation of cultural novelties nor the ratchet effect of human culture. To explain these latter components, we need a combination of trial and error in emulative contexts and (over)imitation. Here we suggest that this combination of the ability in creating innovations and transmitting them faithfully occurred for the first time during the Palaeolithic. In that time frame, we can detect the establishment of imitation as the main social learning strategy in the genus Homo. Adopting a niche construction (henceforth NC) paradigm, we propose that this combination became a social characteristic of Homo sapiens which ontogenetically happens when children reach the school age in modern humans.


Innovation Monkey Ape Human Hunter-gatherer Palaeolithic Human evolution 


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Desirèe Di Paolo
    • 1
  • Fabio Di Vincenzo
    • 2
  1. 1.Lichtenberg-Kolleg—Institute for Advanced Study at the Georg-August-Universität GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Environmental BiologySapienza Università di RomaRomaItaly

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