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Social learning and culture in animals


van Schaik, C P (2010). Social learning and culture in animals. In: Kappeler, P. Animal behaviour : evolution and mechanisms. Heidelberg: Springer, 623-653.

Abstract

Most animals must learn some of the behaviours in their repertoire, and some must learn most. Although learning is often thought of as an individ-ual exercise, in nature much learning is social, i.e. under the influence of conspecifics. Social learners acquire novel information or skills faster and at lower cost, but risk learning false information or useless skills. Social learning can be divided into learning from social information and learning through social interaction. Different species have different mechanisms of learning from social information, ranging from selective attention to the environment due to the presence of others to copying of complete motor sequences. In vertical (or oblique) social learning, naïve individuals often learn skills or knowledge from parents (or other adults), whereas horizon-tal social learning is from peers, either immatures or adults, and more often concerns eavesdropping and public information use. Because vertical social learning is often adaptive, maturing individuals often have a prefer-ence for it over individual exploration. The more cognitively demanding social learning abilities probably evolved in this context, in lineages where offspring show long association with parents and niches are complex. Be-cause horizontal learning can be maladaptive, especially when perishable information has become outdated, animals must decide when to deploy social learning. Social learning of novel skills can lead to distinct traditions or cultures when the innovations are sufficiently rare and effectively transmitted socially. Animal cultures may be common but to date taxo-nomic coverage is insufficient to know how common. Cultural evolution is potentially powerful, but largely confined to humans, for reasons currently unknown. A general theory of culture is therefore badly needed.

Most animals must learn some of the behaviours in their repertoire, and some must learn most. Although learning is often thought of as an individ-ual exercise, in nature much learning is social, i.e. under the influence of conspecifics. Social learners acquire novel information or skills faster and at lower cost, but risk learning false information or useless skills. Social learning can be divided into learning from social information and learning through social interaction. Different species have different mechanisms of learning from social information, ranging from selective attention to the environment due to the presence of others to copying of complete motor sequences. In vertical (or oblique) social learning, naïve individuals often learn skills or knowledge from parents (or other adults), whereas horizon-tal social learning is from peers, either immatures or adults, and more often concerns eavesdropping and public information use. Because vertical social learning is often adaptive, maturing individuals often have a prefer-ence for it over individual exploration. The more cognitively demanding social learning abilities probably evolved in this context, in lineages where offspring show long association with parents and niches are complex. Be-cause horizontal learning can be maladaptive, especially when perishable information has become outdated, animals must decide when to deploy social learning. Social learning of novel skills can lead to distinct traditions or cultures when the innovations are sufficiently rare and effectively transmitted socially. Animal cultures may be common but to date taxo-nomic coverage is insufficient to know how common. Cultural evolution is potentially powerful, but largely confined to humans, for reasons currently unknown. A general theory of culture is therefore badly needed.

Citations

14 citations in Web of Science®
12 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Language:English
Date:2010
Deposited On:24 Feb 2011 16:27
Last Modified:14 Sep 2016 13:45
Publisher:Springer
ISBN:978-3-642-02623-2
Official URL:http://www.springer.com/life+sciences/behavioural/book/978-3-642-02623-2
Related URLs:http://www.recherche-portal.ch/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?fn=search&mode=Advanced&vid=ZAD&vl%28186672378UI0%29=isbn&vl%281UI0%29=contains&vl%28freeText0%29=978-3-642-02623-2
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-46734

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