The Selection of Cultural Units by Non-Contingent Cultural Events

Natália Santos Marques, Emmanuel Zagury Tourinho


We assessed the effects of non-contingent cultural events on the recurrence of the coordinated behaviors of groups of individuals (interlocking behavioral contingencies—IBCs). Laboratory microcultures (three participants each) performed an experimental task, which consisted of selecting rows of a matrix. After each 20 cycles of sequences of choices of rows, a new participant replaced an old one, thus creating a “generational shift .” Individual consequences (plastic coins exchangeable for money) were contingent on the choice of odd-numbered rows. Cultural events (printed stamps exchangeable for school supplies to be donated) occurred after the three participants had made their choices, but these events were not contingent on any particular sequence of rows (IBCs, and the aggregate product produced). During the first 60 cycles, the cultural events occurred after 80% of the cycles, independently of the aggregate product. Next, there was a sequence of 30 cycles in which no cultural event occurred. Finally, the experimental conditions returned to the initial non-contingent occurrence of cultural events. The results show the strengthening of operant individual behaviors, as well as of IBCs in the non-contingent conditions. Cultural transmission was also observed. We discuss the parallel between the observed recurrence of IBCs and previous studies on superstitious individual behavior. The results add to the acknowledged selection of cultural practices by long-term contingent products the possible selection of “superstitious” cultural practices by non-contingent cultural events. Such a possibility should be further investigated, with original or similar experimental designs.


cultural practices, metacontingency, non-contingent cultural events, superstition, superstitious behavior

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