Social learning and social transmission of foraging information in Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus)

K. N. Laland, H. C. Plotkin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Adult male Norway rats were tested in a first experiment to see whether foraging efficiency could be improved by social learning. Observers were placed in one of four conditions in which they were paired with demonstrators that either had or had not been previously trained to dig for buried carrot pieces, and in which the demonstrators either did or did not have carrot buried in the experimental enclosure. Observers in the group with trained demonstrators that did have carrot pieces buried in the experimental area during the observation period subsequently unearthed more buried carrot, did so more rapidly, and were generally more active than were the observers in the other three groups. In a second experiment, chains of transmission were established by allowing each observer to act as a demonstrator for the next naive observer. Enhanced levels of digging behavior were maintained across eight transmission episodes in three transmission groups relative to a no-transmission control group, the performance levels becoming stable after five transmission episodes at a level significantly above that of the control group. The study demonstrates that social learning and transmission mechanisms exist which might result in the diffusion of certain patterns of behavior through populations of Norway rats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-251
Number of pages6
JournalAnimal Learning & Behavior
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 1990


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