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Limited scope for group coordination in stylistic variations of kolam art

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Tran,  N.-Han
Department of Human Behavior Ecology and Culture, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Atmaca,  Silke
Department of Human Behavior Ecology and Culture, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Beheim,  Bret A.
Department of Human Behavior Ecology and Culture, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Tran, N.-H., Kucharský, Š., Waring, T., Atmaca, S., & Beheim, B. A. (in press). Limited scope for group coordination in stylistic variations of kolam art. Frontiers in Psychology. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.742577.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-468C-B
Abstract
In large, complex societies, assorting with others with similar social norms or behaviors can facilitate successful coordination and cooperation. The ability to recognize others with shared norms or behaviors is thus assumed to be under selection. As a medium of communication, human art might reflect fitness-relevant information on shared norms and behaviors of other individuals thus facilitating successful coordination and cooperation. Distinctive styles or patterns of artistic design could signify migration history, different groups with a shared interaction history due to spatial proximity, as well as individual-level expertise and preferences. In addition, cultural boundaries may be even more pronounced in a highly diverse and socially stratified society. In the current study, we focus on a large corpus of an artistic tradition called kolam that is produced by women from Tamil Nadu in South India (N = 3,139 kolam drawings from 192 women) to test whether stylistic variations in art can be mapped onto caste boundaries, migration and neighborhoods. Since the kolam art system with its sequential drawing decisions can be described by a Markov process, we characterize variation in styles of art due to different facets of an artist's identity and the group affiliations, via hierarchical Bayesian statistical models. Our results reveal that stylistic variations in kolam art only weakly map onto caste boundaries, neighborhoods, and regional origin. In fact, stylistic variations or patterns in art are dominated by artist-level variation and artist expertise. Our results illustrate that although art can be a medium of communication, it is not necessarily marked by group affiliation. Rather, artistic behaviour in this context seems to be primarily a behavioral domain within which individuals carve out a unique niche for themselves to differentiate themselves from others. Our findings inform discussions on the evolutionary role of art for group coordination by encouraging researchers to use systematic methods to measure the mapping between specific objects or styles onto groups.