Identifying social learning in animal populations: A new ‘option-bias’ method

R L Kendal, J R Kendal, William John Edward Hoppitt, Kevin Neville Laland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Studies of natural animal populations reveal widespread evidence for the diffusion of novel behaviour patterns, and for intra- and inter-population variation in behaviour. However, claims that these are manifestations of animal ‘culture’ remain controversial because alternative explanations to social learning remain difficult to refute. This inability to identify social learning in social settings has also contributed to the failure to test evolutionary hypotheses concerning the social learning strategies that animals deploy. We present a solution to this problem, in the form of a new means of identifying social learning in animal populations. The method is based on the assumption that social learning will generate greater homogeneity in behaviour between animals than expected in its absence. Our procedure compares the observed level of homogeneity to a bootstrapped sampling distribution utilizing randomization and other procedures. We illustrate the method on data from groups of monkeys provided with novel two-option extractive foraging tasks, demonstrating that social learning can indeed be distinguished from unlearned processes and asocial learning, and revealing that the monkeys only employed social learning for the more difficult tasks. The method is further validated against published datasets and through simulation, and exhibits higher statistical power than conventional inferential statistics.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere6541
JournalPLoS One
Volume4
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009

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