Vanessa Ferdinand

Research Fellow in Computational Cognitive Science

University of Melbourne

Melbourne Connect
700 Swanston Street
Carlton, VIC 3053

+61 383442682

I research the dynamics and mechanics of cultural evolution.

If you’re interested in biological evolution, and want to understand its mechanisms of inheritance - you should be a geneticist. But if you’re interested in cultural evolution, and want to understand its mechanisms of inheritance - what should you do? Cognitive science!

Cultural artifacts, such as languages, music, art, and technologies, change as they pass from mind to mind. These artifacts can not propagate themselves - they require a cognitive system to perceive, process, and (re)produce them.

What happens in cognition when an artifact is being reproduced?
Which structures in the input get causally transferred to the output?
What information is preserved, destroyed, or transformed along the way?
When do cognitive systems support high-fidelity inheritance?
And when do the biases of cognitive systems drive evolution by themselves?

My research addresses these questions by combining computational models, experiments, and information theory to understand the inheritance systems that make cultural evolution possible.
The cognitive roots of regularization in language
Two levels of selection in the picbreeder corpus
The coevolution of ideas and artifacts