Everybody herds, sometimes: cumulative advantage as a product of rational learning

Jacob Dijkstra*, Brent Simpson, Dieko M. Bakker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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We propose a model of cumulative advantage (CA) as an unintended consequence of the choices of a population of individuals. Each individual searches for a high quality object from a set comprising high and low quality objects. Individuals rationally learn from their own experience with objects (reinforcement learning) and from the observation of others’ choices (social learning). We show that CA emerges inexorably as individuals rely more on social learning and as they learn from more rather than fewer others. Our theory argues that CA has social dilemma features: the benefits of CA could be enjoyed with modest drawbacks provided individuals would practice restraint in their social learning. However, when practiced by everyone such restraint goes against the individual’s self-interest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-271
Number of pages65
JournalJournal of Mathematical Sociology
Issue number2
Early online date3-Jun-2023
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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