Structure emerges faster during cultural transmission in children than in adults

Vera Kempe*, Nicolas Gauvrit, Douglas Forsyth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
204 Downloads (Pure)


How does children’s limited processing capacity affect cultural transmission of complex information? We show that over the course of iterated reproduction of two-dimensional random dot patterns transmission accuracy increased to a similar extent in 5- to 8-year-old children and adults whereas algorithmic complexity decreased faster in children. Thus, children require more structure to render complex inputs learnable. In line with the Less-Is-More hypothesis, we interpret this as evidence that children’s processing limitations affecting working memory capacity and executive control constrain the ability to represent and generate complexity, which, in turn, facilitates emergence of structure. This underscores the importance of investigating the role of children in the transmission of complex cultural traits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-254
Number of pages8
Early online date12 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


  • Cultural transmission
  • Iterated learning
  • Serial reproduction
  • Random dot patterns
  • Children
  • Algorithmic complexity


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