Positive Frequency Dependence in Graffiti: An Empirical Case Study of Cultural Evolution

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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Abstract

Cultural traits can be seen to evolve by a process similar to natural selection. They are transmittable, variable, and the variants can have differential fitness. As a result, cultural evolution can in principle lead to non-random distribution of cultural traits. A limited number of studies have addressed the evolution of human cultural traits “in the wild,” partly because culture is difficult to categorize into discrete units. Parallel to studying non-random species distributions in ecosystems due to natural selection, we have focused on investigating non-random distributions of cultural traits in a local environment. We used a collection of library study desks to categorize graffiti into content-based cultural traits, or “topics”, and quantified the level of clustering for each topic as a measure of non-random distributions of topics on the desks. Clustering was found to occur for some topics but not others, and the level of clustering varied with topic in ways that are consistent with topic content characteristics.

Positive Frequency Dependence in Graffiti: An Empirical Case Study of Cultural Evolution

in Journal of Cognition and Culture

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Figures

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    Arrangement of desks in blocks of six and around pillars (in background).
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    Example of graffiti.
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    Summary of the number of markings per desk.
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    Summary of the number of markings per topic.
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    Null distributions of variance values from integrated dataset. Estimated variance is indicated by the bold arrow, p-value refers to percentage of distribution above estimated variance.
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    Null distributions of variance values from separated dataset. Estimated variance is indicated by the bold arrow, p-value refers to percentage of distribution above estimated variance.
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    Null distributions of variance values for unclassifiable markings. Estimated variance is indicated by the bold arrow, p-value refers to percentage of distribution above estimated variance.
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    Correlation in frequency between race/national and insult across all desks in the separated (p=0.0024 using Spearman’s ρ) dataset.
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