Migration, acculturation, and the maintenance of between-group cultural variation

Preprint at BioRxiv, Migration, acculturation, and the maintenance of between-group cultural variation, by Alex Mesoudi (2017)


How do migration and acculturation affect within- and between-group cultural variation? Classic models from population genetics show that migration rapidly breaks down between-group genetic structure. However, in the case of cultural evolution, migrants (or their children) can acculturate to local cultural behaviors via social learning processes such as conformity, potentially preventing migration from eliminating between-group cultural variation. To explore this verbal claim formally, here I present models that quantify the effect of migration and acculturation on between-group cultural variation, first for a neutral trait and then for an individually-costly cooperative trait. I also review the empirical literature on the strength of migrant acculturation. The models show that surprisingly little conformist acculturation is required to maintain plausible amounts of between-group cultural diversity. Acculturation is countered by assortation, the tendency for individuals to preferentially interact with culturally-similar others. Cooperative traits may also be maintained by payoff-biased social learning but only in the presence of strong sanctioning institutions. While these models provide insight into the potential dynamics of acculturation and migration in cultural evolution, they also highlight the need for more empirical research into the individual-level learning biases that underlie migrant acculturation.

The Indo-European Corded Ware Theory group might need to resort to cultural diffusion models again after the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’ is dismissed as a source for Corded Ware peoples and their migration.

Therefore, if you are somehow interested in keeping this IE-CWC(-R1a) theory alive, learning more about these theoritical models for cultural diffusion is probably your best investment for the future…