Do the aged and knowledgeable men enjoy more prestige? A test of predictions from the prestige-bias model of cultural transmission

Victoria Reyes-Garcia*, Jose Luis Molina, James Broesch, Laura Calvet, Tomas Huanca, Judith Saus, Susan Tanner, William Leonard, Thomas McDade

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations

Abstract

The propensity to imitation over other forms of learning is one of the major differences between humans and other species and one that has allowed for cumulative cultural evolution. However, imitation alone cannot explain increases of average fitness in human populations. Anthropologists have hypothesized that people do not imitate behaviors from random people; rather, transmission of some cultural traits (e.g., healing skills) follows biases designed to extract reproductive benefit from the flow of socially transmitted information. In an article in this journal, Henrich and Gil-White argued that important sources of bias in the acquisition of culturally transmitted information come from prestige processes. Here, we test predictions from the prestige-bias model of cultural transmission. We use quantitative information on ethnomedicinal plant knowledge of adult (age >16) Tsimane' men (n=288) collected during 2005. To measure prestige, we asked Tsimane' to list important villagers and counted the number of nominations each person received. We find weak evidence that prestige is associated with ethnomedicinal plant knowledge, and we find no evidence that prestige is associated with age. Rather, we find a secular decline in prestige by decade of birth. Last, prestige bears a positive association with other attributes, such as participation in village organizations. Future empirical research needs to decouple power from prestige.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-281
Number of pages7
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume29
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

Keywords

  • Amazonia
  • Ethnomedicinal plant knowledge
  • Prestige-bias cultural transmission
  • Tsimane'

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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