Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Social Learning

Social Learning: An Introduction to Mechanisms, Methods, and Models

William Hoppitt
Kevin N. Laland
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Social Learning
    Book Description:

    Many animals, including humans, acquire valuable skills and knowledge by copying others. Scientists refer to this as social learning. It is one of the most exciting and rapidly developing areas of behavioral research and sits at the interface of many academic disciplines, including biology, experimental psychology, economics, and cognitive neuroscience.Social Learningprovides a comprehensive, practical guide to the research methods of this important emerging field. William Hoppitt and Kevin Laland define the mechanisms thought to underlie social learning and demonstrate how to distinguish them experimentally in the laboratory. They present techniques for detecting and quantifying social learning in nature, including statistical modeling of the spatial distribution of behavior traits. They also describe the latest theory and empirical findings on social learning strategies, and introduce readers to mathematical methods and models used in the study of cultural evolution. This book is an indispensable tool for researchers and an essential primer for students.

    Provides a comprehensive, practical guide to social learning researchCombines theoretical and empirical approachesDescribes techniques for the laboratory and the fieldCovers social learning mechanisms and strategies, statistical modeling techniques for field data, mathematical modeling of cultural evolution, and more

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4650-4
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Zoology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    William Hoppitt and Kevin N. Laland
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    The study of social learning sits at the interface of a truly astonishing number of academic disciplines. How many other fields could boast being central to both social anthropology and human evolution; core material for both experimental psychologists and theoretically minded economists; or emerging influences in the fields of both cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence?

    The observation that many animals, including humans, acquire valuable life skills and knowledge through copying others has been the focus of attention of animal behaviorists dating back to Darwin. Likewise, social learning, the diffusion of innovations, conformity, and social influences on child development have been...

  5. Chapter 2 A Brief History of Social Learning Research
    (pp. 16-32)

    The history of research into social learning and imitation dates back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who was perhaps the first person recorded as explicitly making the claim that animals acquire behavior through imitation and other forms of social learning. Aristotle was particularly impressed with the human imitative tendency. He wrote that humans are “the most imitative of living creatures”; Aristotle added that through imitation, a human “learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated” (Butcher 1922, 15). These three insights made in the fourth century BC—that humans are uncharacteristically reliant on...

  6. Chapter 3 Methods for Studying Social Learning in the Laboratory
    (pp. 33-61)

    At least from the nineteenth century, it has been apparent that social learning and imitation cannot reliably be deduced from the casual observation, and that experimentation is the most straightforward means to investigate the underlying mechanisms. The designs implemented in social learning experiments reflect the research questions and conceptual frameworks of the scientists involved. As outlined in chapter 2, primary concerns have been to identify the different processes through which social learning can occur, to establish methods for distinguishing between these in the laboratory, and thereby to establish which nonhuman animals, if any, were capable of what were thought to...

  7. Chapter 4 Social Learning Mechanisms
    (pp. 62-104)

    As the preceding chapters bring to light, there are many fields of scientific enquiry on which social learning research impinges. The psychological mechanisms by which individuals learn from one another are of particular interest to these fields. Over the years, a number of authors have attempted classifications of social learning mechanisms (Galef 1988; Heyes 1994; Whiten and Ham 1992; Whiten et al. 2004; Zentall, 1996, 2001), but in practice, there is only partial consensus over terminology. Typically classifications have been devised by researchers studying animal social learning, at least partly with the goal of cataloguing all plausible imitation-like mechanisms that...

  8. Chapter 5 Statistical Methods for Diffusion Data
    (pp. 105-128)

    This is the first of three chapters focusing on statistical techniques for inferring and quantifying social transmission in groups of animals in the wild, or in “captive” groups of animals in naturalistic social environments. Here we focus on techniques for analyzing time-structured data on the occurrence of a particular behavior pattern, orbehavioral trait, in one or more groups. For the most part we focus on cases where a novel trait spreads through one or more groups. Following standard terminology in the field of social learning, we refer to the spread of a trait through a group as adiffusion,...

  9. Chapter 6 Repertoire-Based Methods for Detecting and Quantifying Social Transmission
    (pp. 129-171)

    In this chapter, we discuss methods for inferring and quantifying the social transmission of behavior based on a “snapshot” of the behavioral repertoires of individuals or groups. This differs from the approaches described in chapters 5 and 7 in which time-structured data on the diffusion or development of a trait or traits are available. Often repertoire-based methods take the form of a group-contrasts approach (McGrew 1992; Whiten et al. 1999), where the researcher attempts to ascertain whether different groups have different behavioral repertoires, which might be caused by a higher rate of social transmission within groups than between them. Consequently,...

  10. Chapter 7 Developmental Methods for Studying Social Learning
    (pp. 172-195)

    We ended the previous chapter by drawing attention to the limitations of studying social learning based solely on differences in repertoires, and suggested that developmental approaches are also required. We are not alone in seeing virtues to a developmental perspective on social learning. For example, Dorothy Fragaszy (2012a) writes: “Comparing behavior across groups cannot tell us about the developmental origins of a behavior, and thus such comparisons provide an inadequate basis to determine if a behavior is a tradition.” Fragaszy maintains: “The social setting in which young animals develop shapes the traditions they will acquire.” She further suggests: “To determine...

  11. Chapter 8 Social Learning Strategies
    (pp. 196-234)

    Over the last century, it has been widely assumed, albeit often rather tacitly, that learning from others was inherently adaptive. Individuals were thought to benefit by copying¹ others because by doing so they would take a shortcut to acquiring adaptive information, saving on the costs of trial and error. Only recently has it become apparent that this reasoning is overly simplistic. Always copying others, in a mindless or undiscriminating manner, is not a recipe for success.

    One way to see this is to think of social learning as a form of information parasitism (Giraldeau et al. 2002). Social learners exploit...

  12. Chapter 9 Modeling Social Learning and Culture
    (pp. 235-259)

    In chapter 2 we described how, since the 1970s, researchers from a variety of academic disciplines have been developing mathematical models to explore how aspects of culture change over time. In subsequent chapters we sketched statistical models of social learning of, for example, diffusion data. In this chapter we look more closely at the various ways in which social learning and culture have been formally modeled, focusing primarily on the methods rather than the scientific findings, but nonetheless using examples to illustrate the value of mathematical modeling. We begin by considering the merits of a theoretical approach in general, touching...

  13. Chapter 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 260-264)

    The study of social learning is currently receiving unprecedented scientific attention, spread across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. We set out to summarize and extend new developments in this burgeoning field, render the new tools more accessible and heighten awareness of this exciting area of research. Our primary goal has been to provide a practical guide to the methods for research into social learning, and we review empirical approaches for use in both the laboratory and the field, as well as the primary theoretical tools. In many areas, there is much room for further development of this methodology. In...

  14. References
    (pp. 265-300)
  15. Index
    (pp. 301-307)