Social Learning and Associative Processes: A Synthesis

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Social learning is often considered different from asocial learning in both its characteristics and mechanisms. I presented pigeons with a concurrent discrimination task in which they received artificial social information, consisting of simple shapes that distributed themselves between two options similarly to how conspecifics might. Subjects in some conditions combined personal information about the two options with this social-like information, but subjects in conditions in which personal information was very reliable ignored the social cues, much like cases in which animals only choose to copy choices of others under certain conditions. I present a modification of a popular associative model of individual learning that can replicate these results, despite not distinguishing between social and asocial cues. The model suggests that the adaptive use of social information does not require the assumption of specifically social learning strategies, but may be driven by the overshadowing of less reliable asocial cues by more reliable social cues.

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