Simon Reader: Animal social learning: Implications for understanding others

2:00 PM, Thursday 28 Jun 2018 (1 hour 30 minutes)

Simon Reader 
Professor McGill University

Jonathan Birch 
London School of Economics

Learning from others (social learning) is extremely widespread. Individuals from a variety of species acquire foraging, anti-predator, mating, or habitat information from the activities of other individuals. This social transmission can have significant consequences. For example, alarm or ‘fear’ responses to novel stimuli can be acquired and transmitted between individuals. What animals feel and know may thus be partly the product of what others feel and know. Cocial learning had been thought to require cognitive processes that evolve and develop independently, as adaptive specializations that optimize learning from others. More recently, much variation in social learning is thought to be the product of experience shaping general associative learning capacities, with evolutionary effects on social learning limited to changes in ‘input’ mechanisms rather than central cognitive processes. A similar debate concerns the origins of “mirror neurons.” I will discuss the evidence and implications of this shift in viewpoint about how animals understand and represent others. 

Reader, S. M. (2016). Animal social learning: associations and adaptations. F1000Research, 5.
Reader, S. M., Hager, Y., & Laland, K. N. (2011). The evolution of primate general and cultural intelligence. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 366(1567), 1017-1027.
Reader, S. M., Morand-Ferron, J., & Flynn, E. (2016). Animal and human innovation: novel problems and novel solutions. Trans Roy Soc B 20150182
Street, S. E., Navarrete, A. F., Reader, S. M., & Laland, K. N. (2017). Coevolution of cultural intelligence, extended life history, sociality, and brain size in primatesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(30), 7908-7914.
Reader, S. M., & Laland, K. N. (2002). Social intelligence, innovation, and enhanced brain size in primatesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences99(7), 4436-4441.
McGill University
London School of Economics
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