Cultural evolution of conformity and anticonformity

Kaleda Krebs Denton, Yoav Ram, Uri Liberman, Marcus W. Feldman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conformist bias occurs when the probability of adopting a more common cultural variant in a population exceeds its frequency, and anticonformist bias occurs when the reverse is true. Conformist and anticonformist bias have been widely documented in humans, and conformist bias has also been observed in many nonhuman animals. Boyd and Richerson used models of conformist and anticonformist bias to explain the evolution of large-scale cooperation, and subsequent research has extended these models. We revisit Boyd and Richerson's original analysis and show that, with conformity based on more than three role models, the evolutionary dynamics can be more complex than previously assumed. For example, we show the presence of stable cycles and chaos under strong anticonformity and the presence of new equilibria when both conformity and anticonformity act at different variant frequencies, with and without selection. We also investigate the case of population subdivision with migration and find that the common claim that conformity can maintain between-group differences is not always true. Therefore, the effect of conformity on the evolution of cooperation by group selection may be more complicated than previously stated. Finally, using Feldman and Liberman's modifier approach, we investigate the conditions under which a rare modifier of the extent of conformity or the number of role models can invade a population. Understanding the dynamics of conformistand anticonformist-biased transmission may have implications for research on human and nonhuman animal behavior, the evolution of cooperation, and frequency-dependent transmission in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13603-13614
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
StatePublished - 16 Jun 2020


  • Conformity
  • Migration
  • Modifiers
  • Multiple equilibria
  • Population differentiation


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