Click on any of the papers below to find full-text PDFs attached. For a comprehensive list of these, please check out my CV.

Myth as Model: Group-Level Interpretive Frameworks

Submitted in 2024

I argue that while recruitment might explain some of the design features of historical myths, origin myths in general more importantly provide shared narrative frameworks for aligning and coordination members of a group. Furthermore, by providing in-group members with shared frameworks for interfacing with the world, the contents of myths likely facilitate the selection of belief systems at the group-level.

Recommended citation: Moser, C. (2024). Myth as Model: Group-Level Interpretive Frameworks. [commentary on Sijilmasi et al.]

Innovation-Facilitating Networks Create Inequality

Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2023

Theories of innovation often balance contrasting views that either smart people create smart things or smartly constructed institutions create smart things. While population models have shown factors including population size, connectivity, and agent behavior as crucial for innovation, few have taken the individual-central approach seriously by examining the role individuals play within their groups. To explore how network structures influence not only population-level innovation but also performance among individuals, we studied an agent-based model of the Potions Task, a paradigm developed to test how structure affects a group’s ability to solve a difficult exploration task. We explore how size, connectivity, and rates of information sharing in a network influence innovation and how these have an impact on the emergence of inequality in terms of agent contributions. We find, in line with prior work, population size has a positive effect on innovation, but also find that large and small populations perform similarly; that many small groups outperform fewer large groups; that random changes to structure have few effects on innovation in the task; and that the highest performing agents tend to occupy more central positions in the network. Moreover, we show that every network factor which improves innovation leads to a proportional increase in inequality of performance in the network, creating “genius effects” among otherwise “dumb” agents in both idealized and real-world networks.

Recommended citation: Moser, C., & Smaldino, P.E (2023).Innovation-Facilitating Networks Create Inequality. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 290: 20232281.

Aggressive Mimicry and the Evolution of the Human Cognitive Niche

Published in Human Nature, 2023

The evolution of deception is a major question in the science of human origins. Several hypotheses have been proposed for its evolution. As part of a suite of cognitive traits, these explanations are often packaged under either the Social Brain Hypothesis, which seeks to explain the current adaptive use of this suite of cognitive traits in human social contexts, and the Foraging Brain Hypothesis, which seeks to explain how external environmental drivers led to a change in the human dietary niche with a subsequent increase in foraging-specific behaviors. As these hypotheses are often presented as competing schools of thought, few lines have been proposed linking these competing explanations together. Utilizing cross-cultural data gathered from the Human Relations Area File, we identify numerous (n = 366) examples of the application of deception towards prey across 147 cultures. By comparing similar behaviors in non-human animals which utilize a hunting strategy known as aggressive mimicry, we suggest a potential pathway through which the evolution of deception may have taken place. Rather than deception evolving within social contexts, we suggest social applications of deception in humans could have evolved from an original context of these applications towards prey. We discuss this framework with regards to the evolution of other mental traits including language, theory of mind, and empathy.

Recommended citation: Moser, C., Buckner, W., Sarian, M., Winking, J. (2023). Aggressive Mimicry and the Evolution of the Human Cognitive Niche. Human Nature.

Maintaining transient diversity is a general principle for improving collective problem solving

Published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2023

Humans regularly solve complex problems in cooperative teams. A wide range of mechanisms have been identified that improve the quality of solutions achieved by those teams upon reaching consensus. We argue that all of these mechanisms work via increasing the transient diversity solutions while the group attempts to reach a consensus. These mechanisms can operate at the level of individual psychology (e.g., behavioral inertia), interpersonal communication (e.g., transmission noise), or group structure (e.g., sparse social networks). Transient diversity can be increased by widening the search space of possible solutions or by slowing the diffusion of information and delaying consensus. All of these mechanisms increase the quality of the solution at the cost of increased time to reach it. We review specific mechanisms that facilitate transient diversity and synthesize evidence from both empirical studies and diverse formal models—including multi-armed bandits, NK landscapes, cumulative innovation models, and evolutionary transmission models. Apparent exceptions to this principle occur primarily when problems are sufficiently simple that they can be solved by mere trial and error, or when the incentives of team members are insufficiently aligned. This work has implications for our understanding of collective intelligence, problem solving, innovation, and cumulative cultural evolution.

Recommended citation: Smaldino, P. E., Moser, C., Peréz Velilla, A., Werling, M. Maintaining transient diversity is a general principle for improving collective problem solving. Perspectives on Psychological Science.

All Intelligence is Collective Intelligence

Published in Journal of Multiscale Neuroscience, 2023

Collective intelligence, broadly conceived, refers to the adaptive behavior achieved by groups through the interactions of their members, often involving phenomena such as consensus building, cooperation, and competition. The standard view of collective intelligence is that it is a distinct phenomenon from supposed individual intelligence. In this position piece, we argue that a more parsimonious stance is to consider all intelligent adaptive behavior as being driven by similar abstract principles of collective dynamics. To illustrate this point, we highlight how similar principles are at work in the intelligent behavior of groups of non-human animals, multicellular organisms, brains, small groups of humans, cultures, and even evolution itself. If intelligent behavior in all of these systems is best understood as the emergent result of collective interactions, we ask what is left to be called “individual intelligence”? We believe that viewing all intelligence as collective intelligence offers greater explanatory power and generality, and may promote fruitful cross-disciplinary exchange in the study of intelligent adaptive behavior.

Recommended citation: Falandays, J. B., Kaaronen, R. O., Moser, C. J., Rorot, W., Tan, J., Varma, V., … Youngblood, M (2023). All Intelligence is Collective Intelligence. Journal of Multiscale Neuroscience, 2(1), 169-191.

Decentralized core-periphery structure in social networks accelerates cultural innovation in agent-based model

Published in Proc. of the 22nd International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS 2023), London, United Kingdom, May 29 – June 2, 2023, 2023

Previous investigations into creative and innovation networks have suggested that innovations often occurs at the boundary between the network’s core and periphery. In this work, we investigate the effect of global core-periphery network structure on the speed and quality of cultural innovation. Drawing on differing notions of core-periphery structure, we distinguish decentralized core-periphery, centralized core-periphery, and affinity network structure. We generate networks of these three classes from stochastic block models (SBMs), and use them to run an agent-based model (ABM) of collective cultural innovation, in which agents can only directly interact with their network neighbors. In order to discover the highest-scoring innovation, agents must discover and combine the highest innovations from two completely parallel technology trees. We find that decentralized core-periphery networks outperform the others by finding the final crossover innovation more quickly on average. We hypothesize that decentralized core-periphery network structure accelerates collective problem-solving by shielding peripheral nodes from the local optima known by the core community at any given time. We then build upon the “Two Truths” hypothesis regarding community structure in spectral graph embeddings, which suggests that the adjacency spectral embedding (ASE) captures core-periphery structure, while the Laplacian spectral embedding (LSE) captures affinity. We find that, for core-periphery networks, ASE-based resampling best recreates networks with similar performance on the innovation SBM, compared to LSE-based resampling. Since the Two Truths hypothesis suggests that ASE captures core-periphery structure, this result further supports our hypothesis.

Recommended citation: Milzman, J. & Moser, C. (2023). Decentralized core-periphery structure in social networks accelerates cultural innovation in agent-based model. In Proc. of the 22nd International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS2023), London, United Kingdom, May 29 – June 2, 2023, IFAAMAS.

Hidden Clusters Beyond Ethnic Boundaries

Published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2022

Hidden cluster problems can manifest when broad ethnic categories are used as proxies for cultural traits, especially when traits are assumed to encode cultural distances between groups. We suggest a granular understanding of cultural trait distributions within and between ethnic categories is fundamental to the interpretation of heritability estimates as well as general behavioral outcomes.

Recommended citation: Peréz Velilla, A., Moser, C., Smaldino, P. E. (2022). Hidden Clusters Beyond Ethnic Boundaries. [commentary on Uchiyama et al.]” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 45.

Moral Parochialism and Causal Appraisal of Transgressive Harm in Seoul and Los Angeles

Published in Scientific Reports, 2022

The evolutionary fitness payoffs of moral condemnation are greatest within an individual’s immediate social milieu. Accordingly, insofar as human moral intuitions have been shaped by adaptive design, we can expect transgressive harms to be perceived as more wrong when transpiring in the here and now than when occurring at a distance, or with the approval of local authority figures. This moral parochialism hypothesis has been supported by research conducted in diverse societies, but has yet to be tested in an East Asian society, despite prior research indicating that East Asians appraise transgressive acts as being caused by situational and contextual factors to a greater extent than do Westerners, who tend to emphasize dispositional factors (i.e., the transgressor’s personal nature). Here, in a quasi-experiment using field samples recruited in Seoul and Los Angeles, we tested i) the moral parochialism hypothesis regarding the perceived wrongness of transgressions, as well as ii) the extent to which these wrongness judgments might be influenced by cross-cultural differences in causal appraisals. Despite notably large differences across the two societies in situational versus dispositional appraisals of the causes of the transgressions, replicating previous findings elsewhere, in both societies we found that transgressions were deemed less wrong when occurring at spatial or temporal remove or with the consent of authorities. These findings add to the understanding of morality as universally focused on local affairs, notwithstanding cultural variation in perceptions of the situational versus dispositional causes of (im)moral acts.

Recommended citation: Holbrook, C., Yoon, L., Fessler, D. M. T., Moser, C., Delgado, J. D., Kim, H. (2022). Moral Parochialism and Causal Appraisal of Transgressive Harm in Seoul and Los Angeles. Scientific Reports, 12, 14227.

Acoustic regularities in infant-directed speech and song across cultures

Published in Nature Human Behaviour, 2022

When interacting with infants, humans often alter their speech and song in ways thought to support communication. Theories of human child-rearing, informed by data on vocal signalling across species, predict that such alterations should appear globally. Here, we show acoustic differences between infant-directed and adult-directed vocalizations across cultures. We collected 1,615 recordings of infant- and adult-directed speech and song produced by 410 people in 21 urban, rural and small-scale societies. Infant-directedness was reliably classified from acoustic features only, with acoustic profiles of infant-directedness differing across language and music but in consistent fashions. We then studied listener sensitivity to these acoustic features. We played the recordings to 51,065 people from 187 countries, recruited via an English-language website, who guessed whether each vocalization was infant-directed. Their intuitions were more accurate than chance, predictable in part by common sets of acoustic features and robust to the effects of linguistic relatedness between vocalizer and listener. These findings inform hypotheses of the psychological functions and evolution of human communication.

Recommended citation: Hilton, C. B., Moser, C. J., Bertolo, M., Lee-Rubin, H., Amir, D., Bainbridge, C. M., ... & Mehr, S. A. (2022). Acoustic regularities in infant-directed speech and song across cultures. Nature Human Behaviour, 1-12.

Organizational Development as Generative Entrenchment

Published in Entropy, 2022

A critical task for organizations is how to best structure themselves to efficiently allocate information and resources to individuals tasked with solving sub-components of the organization’s central problems. Despite this criticality, the processes by which organizational structures form remain largely opaque within organizational theory, with most approaches focused on how structure is influenced by individual managerial heuristics, normative cultural perceptions, and trial-and-error. Here, we propose that a broad understanding of organizational formation can be aided by appealing to generative entrenchment, a theory from developmental biology that helps explain why phylogenetically diverse animals appear similar as embryos. Drawing inferences from generative entrenchment and applying it to organizational differentiation, we argue that the reason many organizations appear structurally similar is due to core informational restraints on individual actors beginning at the top and descending to the bottom of these informational hierarchies, which reinforces these structures via feedback between separate levels. We further argue that such processes can lead to the emergence of a variety of group-level traits, an important but undertheorized class of phenomena in cultural evolution.

Recommended citation: Moser, C., & Smaldino, P. E. (2022). Organizational Development as Generative Entrenchment. Entropy, 24(7), 879.

Why don’t cockatoos have war songs?

Published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2021

We suggest that the accounts offered by the target articles could be strengthened by acknowledging the role of group selection and cultural niche construction in shaping the evolutionary trajectory of human music. We argue that group level traits and highly variable cultural niches can explain the diversity of human song, but the accounts in the target articles are insufficient to explain such diversity.

Recommended citation: Moser, C., Ackerman, J., Dayer, A., Proksch, S., & Smaldino, P. E. (2021). Why don’t cockatoos have war songs? [commentary on Mehr et al. and Savage et al.]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 44.