Discussion papers

CPM-15-226 - 16 October 2015

Culture trumps ethnicity! – Intra-generational cultural evolution and ethnocentrism in an artificial society

David Hales and Bruce Edmonds


Ethnocentrism denotes behaviour and beliefs that are positive towards those who share the same ethnicity and negative towards others. Recent artificial society models have been interpreted as demonstrating how ethnocentrism might evolve under minimal assumptions. In these, evolution is modelled over generations of agents where new agents are born inheriting the ethnicity, behaviours and location of their parents. Behaviour does not change within generations but over many generations and agents only interact with their neighbours. We present a model that considers short-term cultural adaption, where agents may interact with any in a population and do not die or give birth but imitate and innovate their behaviours. While agents have a fixed ethnicity, they have the ability to form and join cultural groups and to change how they define their in-group based on both ethnic and cultural markers (or tags). We find that over a range of parameters cultural identity, rather than ethnocentrism, becomes the dominant way that agents identify their in-group producing high levels of positive interaction both within and between ethnicities. However, in some circumstances, cultural markers of group preference are supplemented by ethnic markers. In other words, whilst pure ethnocentrism (based only on ethnic identity only) is not sustained, groups that discriminate in terms of a combination of cultural and ethnic identities do occur. In these less common cases, high levels of ethnocentric behaviours evolve and persist – even though the ethnic markers are arbitrary and fixed – but they only emerge when combined with culture centric behaviour. Furthermore, cooperative ethnocentric groups do not emerge in the absence of cultural processes. The latter suggests the hypothesis that observed ethnocentrism in observed societies need not be the result of long-term historical processes based upon ethnic markers but could be more dependent upon short run cultural ones. We discuss these results as well as the dangers of over interpretation of models like this.


Tag-based cooperation, altruism, cultural evolution, imitation, cultural evolution, cultural group selection, in-group bias, ethnocentrism

The model may be downloaded from: https://www.openabm.org/model/4744/version/1