Social learning solves the problem of narrow-peaked search landscapes: experimental evidence in humans

Abstract

The extensive use of social learning is considered a major reason for the ecological success of humans. Theoretical considerations, models and experiments have explored the evolutionary basis of social learning, showing the conditions under which learning from others is more adaptive than individual learning. Here we present an extension of a previous experimental set-up, in which individuals go on simulated ‘hunts’ and their success depends on the features of a ‘virtual arrowhead’ they design. Individuals can modify their arrowhead either by individual trial and error or by copying others. We study how, in a multimodal adaptive landscape, the smoothness of the peaks influences learning. We compare narrow peaks, in which solutions close to optima do not provide useful feedback to individuals, to wide peaks, where smooth landscapes allow an effective hill-climbing individual learning strategy. We show that individual learning is more difficult in narrow-peaked landscapes, but that social learners perform almost equally well in both narrow- and wide-peaked search spaces. There was a weak trend for more copying in the narrow than wide condition, although as in previous experiments social information was generally underutilized. Our results highlight the importance of tasks’ design space when studying the adaptiveness of high-fidelity social learning.

Publication
Acerbi, A., Tennie, C., Mesoudi, A. (2016), Social learning solves the problem of narrow-peaked search landscapes: experimental evidence in humans, Royal Society Open Science, 3(9), 160215
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Alberto Acerbi

Cultural Evolution / Cognitive Anthropology / Computational Social Science