Sex differences in the use of social information emerge under conditions of risk

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Social learning provides an effective route to gaining up-to-date information, particularly when information is costly to obtain asocially. Theoretical work predicts that the willingness to switch between using asocial and social sources of information will vary between individuals according to their risk tolerance. We tested the prediction that, where there are sex differences in risk tolerance, altering the variance of the payoffs of using asocial and social information differentially influences the probability of social information use by sex. In a computer-based task that involved building a virtual spaceship, men and women (N = 88) were given the option of using either asocial or social sources of information to improve their performance. When the asocial option was risky (i.e., the participant’s score could markedly increase or decrease) and the social option was safe (i.e., their score could slightly increase or remain the same), women, but not men, were more likely to use the social option than the asocial option. In all other conditions, both women and men preferentially used the asocial option to a similar degree. We therefore found both a sex difference in risk aversion and a sex difference in the preference for social information when relying on asocial information was risky, consistent with the hypothesis that levels of risk-aversion influence the use of social information.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4190
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2018


  • Sex differences
  • Risk taking
  • Human behaviour
  • Social learning
  • Social information use
  • Risk aversion
  • Cultural evolution


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