Identifying social learning in animal populations : A new ‘option-bias’ method
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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.
Kendal , R L , Kendal , J R , Hoppitt , W J E & Laland , K N 2009 , ' Identifying social learning in animal populations : A new ‘option-bias’ method ' PLoS One , vol. 4 , no. 8 , e6541 . DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006541
© 2009 Kendal et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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