Olivier Morin

Olivier Morin
Institut Jean Nicod

PhD

About

74
Publications
16,658
Reads
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768
Citations
Additional affiliations
July 2015 - February 2016
Central European University
Position
  • PostDoc Position
November 2013 - June 2015
Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research
Position
  • Research Associate

Publications

Publications (74)
Article
Full-text available
This discussion paper responds to two recent articles in Biology and Philosophy that raise similar objections to cultural attraction theory, a research trend in cultural evolution putting special emphasis on the fact that human minds create and transform their culture. Both papers are sympathetic to this idea, yet both also regret a lack of consili...
Article
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The presence of emotional words and content in stories has been shown to enhance a story’s memorability, and its cultural success. Yet, recent cultural trends run in the opposite direction. Using the Google Books corpus, coupled with two metadata-rich corpora of Anglophone fiction books, we show a decrease in emotionality in English-speaking litera...
Article
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Cultural forms are constrained by cognitive biases, and writing is thought to have evolved to fit basic visual preferences, but little is known about the history and mechanisms of that evolution. Cognitive constraints have been documented for the topology of script features, but not for their orientation. Orientation anisotropy in human vision, as...
Article
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A cultural practice can spread because it is transmitted with high fidelity, but also because biased transformation leads to its reinvention. The respective effect of these two mechanisms, however, may only be quantified if we can measure and detect high-fidelity transmission. This paper proposes wholesale copying, the reproduction of a set of elem...
Article
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Zipf's law of abbreviation, relating more frequent signals to shorter signal lengths, applies to sounds in a variety of communication systems, both human and non-human. It also applies to writing systems: more frequent words tend to be encoded by less complex graphemes, even when grapheme complexity is decoupled from word length. This study documen...
Article
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The amount of information conveyed by linguistic conventions depends on their precision, yet the codes that humans and other animals use to communicate are quite ambiguous: they may map several vague meanings to the same symbol. How does semantic precision evolve, and what are the constraints that limit it? We address this question using a multipla...
Article
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Detecting the forces behind the success or failure of cultural products, such as books or films, remains a challenge. Three such forces are drift, context-biased selection, and selection based on content—when things succeed because of their intrinsic appeal. We propose a tool to study content-biased selection in sets of cultural collections—e.g. li...
Preprint
During the 2020 US presidential election, conspiracy theories about large-scale voter fraud were widely circulated on social media platforms. Given their scale, persistence, and impact, it is critically important to understand the mechanisms that caused these theories to spread so rapidly. The aim of this study was to investigate whether retweet fr...
Article
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Social information is immensely valuable. Yet we waste it. The information we get from observing other humans and from communicating with them is a cheap and reliable informational resource. It is considered the backbone of human cultural evolution. Theories and models focused on the evolution of social learning show the great adaptive benefits of...
Article
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A writing system is a graphic code, i.e., a system of standardized pairings between symbols and meanings in which symbols take the form of images that can endure. The visual character of writing implies that written characters have to fit constraints of the human visual system. One aspect of this optimization lays in the graphic complexity of the c...
Article
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The use of digital technologies and big data in the humanities and social sciences provided many opportunities for cultural heritage management and research, enabling data sharing and interdisciplinary collaborations. These developments increased the need for standardized data formats. General and domain-specific standards for describing and classi...
Article
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Artificial language games give researchers the opportunity to investigate the emergence and evolution of semantic structure, i.e. the organisation of meaning spaces into discrete categories. A possible issue with this approach is that categories mightcarry over from participants’ native languages, a potential bias that has mostly been ignored. In a...
Preprint
Full-text available
Social information is immensely valuable. Yet we waste it. The information we get from observing other humans and from communicating with them is a cheap and reliable informational resource. It is considered the backbone of human cultural evolution. Theories and models focused on the evolution of social learning show the great adaptive benefits of...
Preprint
Artificial language games give researchers the opportunity to investigate the emergence and evolution of semantic structure, i.e. the organization of meaning spaces into discrete categories. A possible issue for this approach is that categories might simply carry over from participants’ native languages, a potential bias that has mostly been ignore...
Preprint
The Color Game gaming app (2018–2019) invited players from all over the world to invent a visual language without words. Participants took part in a referential communication task where a Sender had to indicate a colour to a Receiver, with the help of black and white symbols. They could freely choose which other players they interacted with, and pl...
Preprint
The amount of information conveyed by linguistic conventions depends on their precision, yet the codes that humans and other animals use to communicate are quite ambiguous: they may map several vague meanings to the same symbol. How does semantic precision evolve, and what are the constraints that limit it? We studied the evolution of semantic conv...
Preprint
Full-text available
A familiar story about the evolution of alphabets is that individual letters originated in iconic representations of real things. Over time, these naturalistic pictures became simplified into abstract forms. Thus the iconic ox’s head of Egyptian hieroglyphics transformed into the Phoenician and eventually the Roman letter A. In this vein, attempts...
Article
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Coins are physical representations of monetary values. Like mental or verbal representations 5 of quantities, coins encode sums of money in formats shaped, in part, by cognitive and 6 communicative needs. Studying the coins circulating today, we consider how their design, 7 colour, and size reflect their value. We show that coin designs solve a tra...
Article
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Coinage, the practice of minting small bits of metal with distinctive marks, appearing in the second half of the 7 th century BCE, had a transformative impact upon ancient economies and societies. Controversies endure concerning the original function of ancient coinage, in particular the respective role of states and markets in its emergence. Apply...
Article
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Human communication is thoroughly context bound. We present two experiments investigating the importance of the shared context, that is, the amount of knowledge two interlocutors have in common, for the successful emergence and use of novel conventions. Using a referential communication task where black‐and‐white pictorial symbols are used to conve...
Article
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Cognitive gadgets puts forward an ambitious claim: language, mindreading, and imitation evolved by cultural group selection. Defending this claim requires more than Heyes' spirited and effective critique of nativist claims. The latest human “cognitive gadgets,” such as literacy, did not spread through cultural group selection. Why should social cog...
Article
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What is fiction about, and what is it good for? An influential family of theories sees fiction as rooted in adaptive simulation mechanisms. In this view, our propensity to create and enjoy narrative fictions was selected and maintained due to the training that we get from mentally simulating situations relevant to our survival and reproduction. We...
Article
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Humans commit information to graphic symbols for three basic reasons: as a memory aid, as a tool for thinking, and as a means of communication. Yet, despite the benefits of transmitting information graphically, we still know very little about the biases and constraints acting on the emergence of stable, powerful, and accurate graphic codes (such as...
Article
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Mathematical models and simulations demonstrate the power of majority rules, i.e. following an opinion shared by a majority of group members. Majority opinion should be followed more when (a) the relative and absolute size of the majority grow, the members of the majority are (b) competent, and (c) benevolent, (d) the majority opinion conflicts les...
Article
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We present a theoretical framework bearing on the evolution of written communication. We analyze writing as a special kind of graphic code. Like languages, graphic codes consist of stable, conventional mappings between symbols and meanings, but (unlike spoken or signed languages) their symbols consist of enduring images. This gives them the unique...
Article
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The question of how cultural competence passes from one mind to another is at the heart of any anthropological theory that seeks to accommodate human psychology. Various currents of cognitive or psychological anthropology—the main focus of this entry—have dealt with cultural transmission in their own way. The field's early emphasis on parenting and...
Article
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Unlike a standard online experiment, a gaming app lets participants interact freely with a vast number of partners, as many times as they wish. The gain is not merely one of statistical power. Cultural evolutionists can use gaming apps to allow large numbers of participants to communicate synchronously; to build realistic transmission chains that a...
Data
Online Supplementary Material 1. The complete dataset on all the “ISO 15924” scripts included in the study is accessible at this address: https://osf.io/8hgr5/. Online Supplementary Material 2. Methodological appendix. https://osf.io/8hgr5/.
Chapter
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Les sciences cognitives peuvent-elles contribuer à éclairer des questions classiques en sciences sociales ? C'est la question à laquelle le présent chapitre tente de répondre, en cherchant à montrer l'utilité des recherches en sciences cognitives pour la compréhension de certains phénomènes sociaux, et en particulier la coopération et la transmissi...
Article
We suggest that preschoolers’ frequent obliviousness to the risks and opportunities of deception comes from a trusting stance supporting verbal communication. Three studies ( N = 125) confirm this hypothesis. Three-year-olds can hide information from others (Study 1) and they can lie (Study 2) in simple settings. Yet when one introduces the possibi...
Article
I argue that demographic selection migration and cultural diffusion three mechanisms of institutional change have little in common. Two of these lack the key features associated with group selection: they do not present us with group-level selection pressures counteracting individual-level ones need not produce behavioral altruism and do not requir...
Article
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This paper investigates the ontogeny of human's naive concept of truth. Surprisingly, children find it hard to treat assertions as false before their fifth birthday. Yet, we show in six studies (N = 140) that human's concept of falsity develops early. Two-year-olds use truth-functional negation to exclude one term in an alternative (Study 1). Three...
Data
This document reports the raw data from the six studies described in our paper, “Epistemology for Beginners: Children’s Representations of Falsity” (Mascaro & Morin).
Data
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This is an examination of the complete list of 217 games included in Rabelais' Gargantua. That list was used to document the stability of children's peer cultures in the study 'Centuries of Fun: The fate of 103 games from Rabelais', published as an appendix to Morin, 2015. This document contains an entry for every game in Rabelais' list, those that...
Article
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Suspicion of “physics envy” surrounds the standard statistical toolbox used in the empirical sciences, from biology to psychology. Mainstream methods in these fields, various lines of criticism point out, often fall short of the basic requirements of measurement. Quantitative scales are applied to variables that can hardly be treated as measurable...
Article
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Il n’est pas toujours inutile de préparer des révolutions qui n’auront pas lieu. Celle que propose On Deep History and the Brain (2008) va, de son propre aveu, à contre-courant de bien des évolutions de la discipline historique : de plus en plus spécialisée, concentrée sur des époques récentes, de plus en plus tentée (du moins aux États-Unis) par d...
Article
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This paper describes and defends the “virtues of ingenuity”: detachment, lucidity, thoroughness. Philosophers traditionally praise these virtues for their role in the practice of using reasoning to solve problems and gather information. Yet, reasoning has other, no less important uses. Conviction is one of them. A recent revival of rhetoric and arg...
Article
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The docility hypothesis holds that human social learning produces genuinely altruistic behaviors as a maladaptive by-product. This article examines five possible sources of such altruistic mistakes. The first two mechanisms, the smoke-detector principle and the cost-accuracy tradeoff, are not specifically linked to social learning. Both predict tha...
Chapter
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The nine chapters are organized according to the extent to which testimony is necessary for children to learn the matter in question – from cases where children are entirely dependent on the testimony of others, to cases where testimony is merely a convenient way of learning. Chapters also consider situations where reliance on testimony can lead a...
Article
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Transmitted culture can be viewed as an inheritance system somewhat independent of genes that is subject to processes of descent with modification in its own right. Although many authors have conceptualized cultural change as a Darwinian process, there is no generally agreed formal framework for defining key concepts such as natural selection, fitn...
Chapter
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Certain rules do not merely regulate social behaviors: they make social behaviors possible. That idea forms part of the philosophy of social science mainstream. It dates back at least to John Rawls’ distinction between rules derived from past experience and rules of a practice, and possibly long before. This chapter distinguishes and questions thre...
Article
This issue of Terrain looks at the expression of laughter from a variety of perspectives: cognitive, social, political. This introduction will attempt to throw some light on one aspect of laughter and comedy that recurs in many contexts: its ambiguity. As of now, the most promising theories that have proposed a cognitive mechanism for laughter have...
Article
It has often been suggested that innate features of the human mind could make some cultural forms more successful than others. This paper presents a case study consistent with this "cognitive attraction" hypothesis. Numerous studies show that direct eye-gaze catches the attention of adults and newborns. Adults find it more attractive. We explore on...
Article
Focusing primarily on linguistic phenomena, this essay tries to explain how traditions get propagated in spite of the dangers of travel and the passing of time. Ooing so requires two problems to be solved: the Wear-and-Tear Problem and the Flop Problem. We all know the Wear-and- Tear Problem from playing Chinese whispers: when a message goes throug...
Article
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Cet article répond aux critiques récemment adressées aux tenants du « naturalisme social » dans les pages de la revue SociologieS. Il le fait en défendant un naturalisme minimal, bâti sur trois idées : l’interdisciplinarité est permise ; la pensée est un processus causal qui a lieu dans un monde matériel ; l’humanité est une espèce animale. Ces idé...
Chapter
Naturalistic approaches to culture face an adjustment problem: many entities commonly found in the social sciences (traditions, institutions, social norms, etc.) do not seem to have any plausible counterpart in the natural sciences that are closest to humans (biology and psychology). The natural world seems too tiny to accommodate the furniture of...
Article
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The evolutionary foundations of helping among nonkin in humans have been the object of intense debates in the past decades. One thesis has had a prominent influence in this debate: the suggestion that genuine altruism, strictly defined as a form of help that comes at a net fitness cost for the benefactor, might have evolved owing to cultural transm...
Article
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The awakening of liars Young children in their third year show surprising cognitive capacities that should help them know how to lie. They represent other people’s beliefs, they know what it is for a representation to be false, and they are able to manipulate others with inaccurate messages. In spite of all this, they seem to be nothing more than o...
Article
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Naturalistic accounts of culture, based on evolutionary psychology and theories of cultural evolution, can deal with the meaning of public symbols. There have been, indeed, several interesting proposals to naturalize the study of signs and their meaning. Kockelman' paper---Biosemiosis, technocognition and sociogenesis---provides such a proposal. It...
Article
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Why do children have traditions?The long-standing traditions of children’s peer cultures have puzzled anthropologists at least since the days of Edward B. Tylor. This paper summarises the evidence speaking in favour of the existence of traditions spanning several centuries and passed on mostly from child to child. Populations of children being rapi...
Article
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In the philosophy of social sciences, a frequent claim is that every institution is founded on at least one constitutive rule. Constitutive rules, as opposed to rules that merely regulate already existing behaviours, are supposed to enable social practices which would not exist independently of the rules which institute them. For example, it is sai...
Article
We review the findings of 24 fMRI studies examining activations in the premotor cortex (Brodmann's areas 6 and 44) during passive observation of actions. We found that such activations regularly occurred. Looking for functional differentiation in the premotor cortex, we found that one parameter was associated with systematic differences in location...
Article
Confusion of feelings: explaining hard core pornographic videosTo show how certain particularities in our sense of touch can have massive cultural effects, the paper takes the example of pornographic videos. Most analyses of the genre focus on its visual effects, or on its moral and political repercussions. According to the theory presented here, h...

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