Social information use and social information waste


Social information is immensely valuable. Yet we waste it. The information we get from observing other humans and from communicating with them is a cheap and reliable informational resource. It is considered the backbone of human cultural evolution. Theories and models focused on the evolution of social learning show the great adaptive benefits of evolving cognitive tools to process it. In spite of this, human adults in the experimental literature use social information quite inefficiently - they do not take it sufficiently into account. A comprehensive review of the literature on five experimental tasks documented 45 studies showing social information waste, and four studies showing social information being over-used. These studies cover ‘egocentric discounting’ phenomena as studied by social psychology, but also include experimental social learning studies. Social information waste means that human adults fail to give social information its optimal weight. Both proximal explanations and accounts derived from evolutionary theory leave crucial aspects of the phenomenon unaccounted for - egocentric discounting is a pervasive effect that no single unifying explanation fully captures. Cultural evolutionary theory’s insistence on the power and benefits of social influence is to be balanced against this phenomenon.

Morin, O., Jacquet, P.O., Vaesen, K., Acerbi, A., Social information use and social information waste, Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B, 376, 20200052