I nomi raccontano una storia
Un recente lavoro apparso su PNAS mostra come tecniche di meccanica statistica possano essere usate per estrarre informazioni quantitative sui cambiamenti culturali. In particolare, lo studio dei nomi dati ai bambini nati negli USA dal 1910 al 2012 permette di individuare chiare correlazioni tra gli stati americani e di identificare una netta transizione in tali correlazioni verso la fine del XX secolo.
Cross-correlations of American baby names
P. Baracca, J. Rocchi, E. Marinari, G. Parisi and F. Ricci-Tersenghi
The quantitative description of cultural evolution is a challenging task. The most difficult part of the problem is probably to find the appropriate measurable quantities that can make more quantitative such evasive concepts as, for example, dynamics of cultural movements, behavioral patterns, and traditions of the people. A strategy to tackle this issue is to observe particular features of human activities, i.e., cultural traits, such as names given to newborns. We study the names of babies born in the United States from 1910 to 2012. Our analysis shows that groups of different correlated states naturally emerge in different epochs, and we are able to follow and decrypt their evolution. Although these groups of states are stable across many decades, a sudden reorganization occurs in the last part of the 20th century. We unambiguously demonstrate that cultural evolution of society can be observed and quantified by looking at cultural traits. We think that this kind of quantitative analysis can be possibly extended to other cultural traits: Although databases covering more than one century (such as the one we used) are rare, the cultural evolution on shorter timescales can be studied due to the fact that many human activities are usually recorded in the present digital era.