Skip directly to content

People Prefer the Simplest Possible Function for Transmitting Complex Information

NSF Award:

Collaborative Research: Knowledge Transmission Through Iterated Learning  (Brown University)

Collaborative Research: Knowledge Transmission Through Iterated Learning  (University of California-Berkeley)

Collaborative Research: Knowledge transmission through iterated learning  (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

State:
Congressional Districts:
Research Areas:

Much of the knowledge that people have about the world is acquired not through direct experience, but rather from interactions with other people, who themselves acquired their knowledge from other people. This process of knowledge transmission is similar to the children's game "Telephone," where a message is passed from one child to another. Unlike the children's game, however, processes of intergenerational knowledge transmission are likely to have profound and perhaps irreversible consequences for the structure of knowledge.

Thomas Griffiths of the University of California, Berkeley, and Michael Kalish of the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, have explored how knowledge changes when passed from person to person and what these changes tell us about how people learn and reason about the world. The researchers developed mathematical models of knowledge transmission and found that knowledge being transmitted  from one person to another will shift into a form that is easier for people to learn, a form more consistent with people's expectations. The researchers' predictions were confirmed in an experiment in which people learned about a relationship between two variables and then used the knowledge of one variable to make predictions about the other.

The models of knowledge transmission developed by Griffiths and Kalish have the potential to explain how human cognition shapes human societies, connecting properties of individual learners with the persistence of different aspects of culture. Some of these models may explain the kinds of languages spoken in different communities and the ways in which they are learned. A better understanding of the process of knowledge transmission helps increase the probability that important information can be framed in a way that will enable it to be transmitted easily and accurately.

Image

  • Photo of two girls whispering to each other
Researchers are exploring how knowledge changes when it's passed from person to person and what these changes tell us about how people learn. The process of knowledge transmission is similar to the children's game "Telephone."
Digital Vision
Permission Granted

Recent Award Highlights

image and schematic show how the human brain analyzes biological motion

Distinguishing between animate and inanimate objects

Animacy judgments are governed by physical and biological constraints

Research Areas: People & Society Locations: California
regional culture and a major university are keys to successful innovation economies

The role of innovation in regional economies

Regional culture and a major university contribute to innovation economy success

Research Areas: People & Society Locations: California