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This content will become publicly available on December 19, 2023

Title: The importance of thinking about the future in culture and cumulative cultural evolution
Thinking about possibilities plays a critical role in the choices humans make throughout their lives. Despite this, the influence of individuals' ability to consider what is possible on culture has been largely overlooked. We propose that the ability to reason about future possibilities or prospective cognition, has consequences for cultural change, possibly facilitating the process of cumulative cultural evolution. In particular, by considering potential future costs and benefits of specific behaviours, prospective cognition may lead to a more flexible use of cultural behaviours. In species with limited planning abilities, this may lead to the development of cultures that promote behaviours with future benefits, circumventing this limitation. Here, we examine these ideas from a comparative perspective, considering the relationship between human and nonhuman assessments of future possibilities and their cultural capacity to invent new solutions and improve them over time. Given the methodological difficulties of assessing prospective cognition across species, we focus on planning, for which we have the most data in other species. Elucidating the role of prospective cognition in culture will help us understand the variability in when and how we see culture expressed, informing ongoing debates, such as that surrounding which social learning mechanisms underlie culture. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Thinking about possibilities: mechanisms, ontogeny, functions and phylogeny’.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1919305 1658867
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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