A Homophily-Based Account of Human Culture
This chapter presents a homophily-based account of human social structure and cultural transmission, wherein a tendency to favor similar others (homophily) is a key driving force in creating human-unique forms of culture. Homophily also accounts for observed striking differences between human groups. From early in development, evidence demonstrates that humans show a strong tendency to interact with, and learn from, individuals who are similar to themselves. It is proposed that homophilic preferences of the group, in general, creates a feedback loop to ensure that children engage in high-fidelity copying of the group’s behavioral repertoire. This allows children to reap the benefits of others’ homophilic preferences and so maintain their position within the group. In consequence, homophilic preferences have transformed a number of mechanisms which humans share with other species (e.g., emulation and majority-biased transmission) into human-unique variants (e.g., social imitation and conformity). Homophilic preferences have, furthermore, spawned a new tendency to interpret the structure of actions as social signals: norm psychology. The homophily account thus connects previously disparate findings in comparative, developmental, and social psychology and provides a unified account of the importance of the preference for similar others in species-specific human social behavior. Published in the Strungmann Forum Reports Series.
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