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Tipping Points

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How inventiveness leads to an increase in cultural diversity

(17 April 2012)

A recent study from Prof Alex Bentley and Dr Paul Ormerod looks at the inventiveness of baby names in the US that provides insight into how cultural diversity spreads over time.

The study published in the journal Advanced Complex Systems compares the most popular baby names in 1960 and 2009 using data from the United States Social Administration. They found that globalisation may actually increase cultural diversity regarding baby name inventiveness allowing a greater variety of baby names to exist in popular culture. 

Professor Bentley said: “As individuals copy each other through social media, rather than responding to centralized media, there can be stronger consensus in each local social group but more diversification between those groups globally.  Names are only one example, of course, but this phenomenon suggests a way in which the interconnectedness of ‘globalization’ – a word that tends to connote homogeneity – may instead promote cultural diversity by allowing random drift to occur more pervasively.

“So, does globalization bring people together or drive them apart?  Our study suggests it does both.  Globalization makes it even easier for us to copy each other, but also increases our motivation to be original.  The combination results in local social groups that grow apart through the inventiveness that occurs within them”.

Researchers argue that social copying is central to the spread of baby names, which are learned socially increasing naming diversity. Maps and charts comparing inventiveness in baby names in 1960 with 2009 are available on the Tipping Points blog. The paper is available here

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