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The Cog in the Ratchet: Illuminating the Cognitive Mechanisms Generating Human Cumulative Culture

Total Cost €


EC-Contrib. €






 RATCHETCOG project word cloud

Explore the words cloud of the RATCHETCOG project. It provides you a very rough idea of what is the project "RATCHETCOG" about.

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Project "RATCHETCOG" data sheet

The following table provides information about the project.


Organization address
address: .
postcode: FK9 4LA

contact info
title: n.a.
name: n.a.
surname: n.a.
function: n.a.
email: n.a.
telephone: n.a.
fax: n.a.

 Coordinator Country United Kingdom [UK]
 Project website
 Total cost 1˙780˙453 €
 EC max contribution 1˙780˙453 € (100%)
 Programme 1. H2020-EU.1.1. (EXCELLENT SCIENCE - European Research Council (ERC))
 Code Call ERC-2014-CoG
 Funding Scheme ERC-COG
 Starting year 2015
 Duration (year-month-day) from 2015-09-01   to  2020-08-31


Take a look of project's partnership.

# participants  country  role  EC contrib. [€] 
1    THE UNIVERSITY OF STIRLING UK (STIRLING) coordinator 1˙780˙453.00


 Project objective

In human populations, skills and knowledge accumulate over generations, giving rise to behaviours and technologies far more complex than any single individual could achieve alone. This ratchet-like property of human culture appears absent in nonhuman species, as socially transmitted behaviours in animal populations are generally no more complex than those that can be acquired by trial and error. Scientists from a wide range of disciplines have offered high-profile speculative theories about the underlying differences that might be responsible for this striking evolutionary discontinuity, but adequate empirical evidence is still lacking. In the RATCHETCOG project, Dr Caldwell and her team will, for the first time, implement a comprehensive systematic investigation into cumulative cultural evolution, using an experimental method that offers sufficient flexibility to generate valid comparisons across three critical research domains: species differences across the primate family tree; age differences over human development; and learning condition differences in groups of adult human participants. The methods devised for the project will make it possible to both measure and manipulate the complexity of the behaviours learned, thus offering a tool for analysing the extent of ratcheting under different conditions and across different populations. Each of the three research strands provides a vital source of evidence. Studies of nonhuman primates will reveal the limits on learning in these species, and studies with children will provide key opportunities to determine which cognitive abilities predict the development of capacities for cumulative culture. Finally, comparing different learning conditions in groups of adults is critical, as these experiments will allow clear causal conclusions regarding prerequisites and constraints, in relation to task complexity. The project will therefore fully expose the cognitive machinery responsible for the uniqueness of human culture.


year authors and title journal last update
List of publications.
2019 Elizabeth Renner, Mark Atkinson, Christine A. Caldwell
Squirrel monkey responses to information from social demonstration and individual exploration using touchscreen and object choice tasks
published pages: e7960, ISSN: 2167-8359, DOI: 10.7717/peerj.7960
PeerJ 7 2020-04-01
2018 Christine A. Caldwell
Using Experimental Research Designs to Explore the Scope of Cumulative Culture in Humans and Other Animals
published pages: , ISSN: 1756-8757, DOI: 10.1111/tops.12391
Topics in Cognitive Science 2019-09-26
2019 Christine A. Caldwell, Mark Atkinson, Kirsten H. Blakey, Juliet Dunstone, Donna Kean, Gemma Mackintosh, Elizabeth Renner, Charlotte E. H. Wilks
Experimental assessment of capacities for cumulative culture: Review and evaluation of methods
published pages: , ISSN: 1939-5078, DOI: 10.1002/wcs.1516
Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science 2019-09-26
2016 Andrew Whiten, Christine A Caldwell, Alex Mesoudi
Cultural diffusion in humans and other animals
published pages: 15-21, ISSN: 2352-250X, DOI: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.09.002
Current Opinion in Psychology 8 2019-06-07
2016 Christine A. Caldwell, Mark Atkinson, Elizabeth Renner
Experimental Approaches to Studying Cumulative Cultural Evolution
published pages: 191-195, ISSN: 0963-7214, DOI: 10.1177/0963721416641049
Current Directions in Psychological Science 25/3 2019-06-07
2017 Christine A. Caldwell, Elizabeth Renner, Mark Atkinson
Human Teaching and Cumulative Cultural Evolution
published pages: , ISSN: 1878-5158, DOI: 10.1007/s13164-017-0346-3
Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2019-06-07
2016 Christine A. Caldwell, Hannah Cornish, Anne Kandler
Identifying innovation in laboratory studies of cultural evolution: rates of retention and measures of adaptation
published pages: 20150193, ISSN: 0962-8436, DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0193
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 371/1690 2019-06-07
2018 Juliet Dunstone, Christine A. Caldwell
Cumulative culture and explicit metacognition: a review of theories, evidence and key predictions
published pages: , ISSN: 2055-1045, DOI: 10.1057/s41599-018-0200-y
Palgrave Communications 4/1 2019-04-18
2019 Nicolas Fay, Naomi De Kleine, Bradley Walker, Christine A. Caldwell
Increasing population size can inhibit cumulative cultural evolution
published pages: 201811413, ISSN: 0027-8424, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1811413116
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2019-04-18
2018 Charlotte Elizabeth Holmes Wilks, Kirsten H. Blakey
In the jungle of cultural complexity
published pages: , ISSN: 1060-1538, DOI: 10.1002/evan.21724
Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 2019-04-14
2018 Elizabeth Renner, Jessica P. White, Antonia F. de C. Hamilton, Francys Subiaul
Neural responses when learning spatial and object sequencing tasks via imitation
published pages: e0201619, ISSN: 1932-6203, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0201619
PLOS ONE 13/8 2019-05-29

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