Neuroscience, evolution, and culture

New paper: The logic of fashion cycles

Plos ONE has accepted our paper “The logic of fashion cycles,” where Alberto Acerbi, Magnus Enquist and myself present a new theoretical model to understand fashion cycles (see my previous post on dog breeds). You can download a preprint, and here is the abstract:

Many cultural traits exhibit volatile dynamics, commonly dubbed fashions or fads. Here we show that realistic fashion-like dynamics emerge spontaneously if individuals can copy others’ preferences for cultural traits as well as traits themselves. We demonstrate this dynamics in simple mathematical models of the diffusion, and subsequent abandonment, of a single cultural trait which individuals may or may not prefer. We then simulate the coevolution between many cultural traits and the associated preferences, reproducing power-law frequency distributions of cultural traits (most traits are adopted by few individuals for a short time, and very few by many for a long time), as well as correlations between the rate of increase and the rate of decrease of traits (traits that increase rapidly in popularity are also abandoned quickly and vice-versa). We also establish that alternative theories, that fashions result from individuals signaling their social status, or from individuals randomly copying each other, do not satisfactorily reproduce these empirical observations.


3 responses to “New paper: The logic of fashion cycles

  1. Tim Tyler 2012/01/31 at 16:49

    A preference for novelty – and thus things going “out of fashion” – appears to drive quite a few transient fashion trends. Surely this is an important rival hypothesis in the fashion domain.

    • drghirlanda 2012/01/31 at 19:49

      Hi Tim,
      Our paper explores how fashions may rise and fall based purely on cultural evolution dynamics. The hypothesis you mention belongs to another class of proposed explanations, those that look at psychological biases as the source of fashion. While we do not necessarily dismiss this kind of explanation, our paper shows that an inborn “need for novelty” is not necessary to the fall of fashions. Thanks for your interest in our research.


  2. Pingback: The Logic of Fashion Cycles « drghirlanda

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