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Compression in cultural evolution: Homogeneity and structure in the emergence and evolution of a large-scale online collaborative art project

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Müller,  Thomas F.
The Mint, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Winters,  James
The Mint, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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(Publisher version), 33MB

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Citation

Müller, T. F., & Winters, J. (2018). Compression in cultural evolution: Homogeneity and structure in the emergence and evolution of a large-scale online collaborative art project. PLoS One, 13(9): e0202019. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0202019.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0002-0CF6-C
Abstract
Cultural evolutionary theory provides a framework for explaining change in population-level distributions. A consistent finding in the literature is that multiple transmission episodes shape a distribution of cultural traits to become more compressible, i.e., a set of derived traits are more compressed than their ancestral forms. Importantly, this amplification of compressible patterns can become manifest in two ways, either via the homogenisation of variation or through the organisation of variation into structured and specialised patterns. Using a novel, large-scale dataset from Reddit Place, an online collaborative art project, we investigate the emergence and evolution of compressible patterns on a 1000x1000 pixel canvas. Here, all Reddit users could select a coloured pixel, place it on the canvas, and then wait for a fixed period before placing another pixel. By analysing all 16.5 million pixel placements by over 1 million individuals, we found that compression follows a quadratic trajectory through time. From a non-structured state, where individual artworks exist relatively independently from one another, Place gradually transitions to a structured state where pixel placements form specialised, interdependent patterns.