Not-so-social learning strategies
Heyes C., Pearce JM.
© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. Social learning strategies (SLSs) are rules specifying the conditions in which it would be adaptive for animals to copy the behaviour of others rather than to persist with a previously established behaviour or to acquire a new behaviour through asocial learning. In behavioural ecology, cultural evolutionary theory and economics, SLSs are studied using a ‘phenotypic gambit’—from a purely functional perspective, without reference to their underlying psychological mechanisms. However, SLSs are described in these fields as if they were implemented by complex, domain-specific, genetically inherited mechanisms of decision-making. In this article, we suggest that it is time to begin investigating the psychology of SLSs, and we initiate this process by examining recent experimental work relating to three groups of strategies: copy when alternative unsuccessful, copy when model successful and copy the majority. In each case, we argue that the reported behaviour could have been mediated by domain-general and taxonomically general psychological mechanisms; specifically, by mechanisms, identified through conditioning experiments, that make associative learning selective.We also suggest experimental manipulations that could be used in future research to resolve more fully the question whether, in non-human animals, SLSs are mediated by domain-general or domain-specific psychological mechanisms.