Investigations of biases and experiential effects on social learning, social information use, and mirror systems can usefully inform one another. Unconstrained learning is predicted to shape mirror systems when the optimal response to an observed act varies, but constraints may emerge when immediate error-free responses are required and evolutionary or developmental history reliably predicts the optimal response. Given the power of associative learning, such constraints may be rare.
Cognition presents evolutionary research with one of its greatest challenges. Cognitive evolution has been explained at the proximate level by shifts in absolute and relative brain volume and at the ultimate level by differences in social and dietary complexity. However, no study has integrated the experimental and phylogenetic approach at the scale required to rigorously test these explanations. Instead, previous research has largely relied on various measures of brain size as proxies for cognitive abilities. We experimentally evaluated these major evolutionary explanations by quantitatively comparing the cognitive performance of 567 individuals representing 36 species on two problem-solving tasks measuring self-control. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that absolute brain volume best predicted performance across species and accounted for considerably more variance than brain volume controlling for body mass. This result corroborates recent advances in evolutionary neurobiology and illustrates the cognitive consequences of cortical reorganization through increases in brain volume. Within primates, dietary breadth but not social group size was a strong predictor of species differences in self-control. Our results implicate robust evolutionary relationships between dietary breadth, absolute brain volume, and self-control. These findings provide a significant first step toward quantifying the primate cognitive phenome and explaining the process of cognitive evolution.
Outcome transparency and the weight given to social information both play important roles in decision making, but we argue that an overarching influence is the degree to which individuals can and do gather information. Evolution, experience, and development may shape individual specializations in social decision making that carry over across contexts, and these individual differences may influence collective behavior and cultural evolution.
Copying others appears to be a cost-effective way of obtaining adaptive information, particularly when flexibly employed. However, adult humans differ considerably in their propensity to use information from others, even when this social information is beneficial, raising the possibility that stable individual differences constrain flexibility in social information use. We used two dissimilar decision-making computer games to investigate whether individuals flexibly adjusted their use of social information to current conditions or whether they valued social information similarly in both games. Participants also completed established personality questionnaires. We found that participants demonstrated considerable flexibility, adjusting social information use to current conditions. In particular, individuals employed a copy-when-uncertain social learning strategy, supporting a core, but untested, assumption of influential theoretical models of cultural transmission. Moreover, participants adjusted the amount invested in their decision based on the perceived reliability of personally gathered information combined with the available social information. However, despite this strategic flexibility, participants also exhibited consistent individual differences in their propensities to use and value social information. Moreover, individuals who favoured social information self-reported as more collectivist than others. We discuss the implications of our results for social information use and cultural transmission.
Behavioral flexibility allows individuals to react to environmental changes, but changing established behavior carries costs, with unknown benefits. Individuals may thus modify their behavioral flexibility according to the prevailing circumstances. Social information provided by the performance level of others provides one possible cue to assess the potential benefits of changing behavior, since out-performance in similar circumstances indicates that novel behaviors (innovations) are potentially useful. We demonstrate that social performance cues, in the form of previous players scores in a problem-solving computer game, influence behavioral flexibility. Participants viewed only performance indicators, not the innovative behavior of others. While performance cues (high, low, or no scores) had little effect on innovation discovery rates, participants that viewed high scores increased their utilization of innovations, allowing them to exploit the virtual environment more effectively than players viewing low or no scores. Perceived conspecific performance can thus shape human decisions to adopt novel traits, even when the traits employed cannot be copied. This simple mechanism, social performance feedback, could be a driver of both the facultative adoption of innovations and cumulative cultural evolution, processes critical to human success.
There are consistent individual differences in human intelligence, attributable to a single general intelligence factor, g. The evolutionary basis of g and its links to social learning and culture remain controversial. Conflicting hypotheses regard primate cognition as divided into specialized, independently evolving modules versus a single general process. To assess how processes underlying culture relate to one another and other cognitive capacities, we compiled ecologically relevant cognitive measures from multiple domains, namely reported incidences of behavioural innovation, social learning, tool use, extractive foraging and tactical deception, in 62 primate species. All exhibited strong positive associations in principal component and factor analyses, after statistically controlling for multiple potential confounds. This highly correlated composite of cognitive traits suggests social, technical and ecological abilities have coevolved in primates, indicative of an across-species general intelligence that includes elements of cultural intelligence. Our composite species-level measure of general intelligence, primate g(S), covaried with both brain volume and captive learning performance measures. Our findings question the independence of cognitive traits and do not support massive modularity in primate cognition, nor an exclusively social model of primate intelligence. High general intelligence has independently evolved at least four times, with convergent evolution in capuchins, baboons, macaques and great apes.
In temporal discounting, animals trade off the time to obtain a reward against the quality of a reward, choosing between a smaller reward available sooner versus a larger reward available later. Similar discounting can apply over space, when animals choose between smaller and closer versus larger and more distant rewards. Most studies of temporal and spatial discounting in non-human animals use food as the reward, and it is not established whether animals trade off other preferred stimuli in similar ways. Here, we offered female guppies (Poecilia reticulata) a spatial discounting task in which we measured preferences for a larger reward as the distance to it increased relative to a closer but smaller reward. We tested whether the fish discounted reward types differently by offering subjects either food items or same-sex conspecifics as rewards. Before beginning the discounting tasks, we conducted validation tests to ensure that subjects equally valued the food and social stimuli in the quantities provided. In the discounting task, subjects switched their preferences from the larger to the smaller reward as the distance to the larger reward increased (spatial discounting), but the pattern and magnitude of discounting did not differ across the two reward types. These findings indicate that guppies show similar patterns of discounting for food and social rewards in a spatial task. In an examination of travel times, however, the fish swam faster to food rewards than to shoaling partners. Analysis of travel times suggests that fish temporally discounted social rewards less steeply than food rewards. Thus, reward type influences temporal discounting, suggesting a dissociation between temporal and spatial discounting. Our results illustrate how animals adjust choices and travel times depending on both the type of cost (time, distance) and benefits (food, social partners).
The local structure and cation disorder in Y(2)Ti(2-x)Sn(x)O(7) pyrochlores, materials proposed for the encapsulation of lanthanide- and actinide-bearing radioactive waste, is studied using (119)Sn (I = 1/2) NMR spectroscopy. NMR provides an excellent probe of disorder, as it is sensitive to the atomic scale environment without the need for any long-range periodicity. However, the complex and overlapping spectral resonances that often result can be difficult to interpret. Here, we demonstrate how (119)Sn DFT calculations can be used to aid the spectral interpretation and assignment, confirming that Sn occupies only the six-coordinate pyrochlore B site, and that the Sn chemical shift is sensitive to the number of Sn/Ti on the neighbouring B sites. Although distinct resonances are resolved experimentally when the Ti content is low, there is significant spectral overlap for Ti-rich compositions. We establish that this is a result of two competing contributions to the Sn chemical shift; an upfield shift resulting from the incorporation of the more polarizing Ti(4+) cation onto the neighbouring B sites, and a concomitant downfield shift arising from the decrease in unit cell size. Despite the considerably easier spectral acquisition, the lower resolution in the (119)Sn spectra hinders the extraction of the detailed structural information previously obtained using (89)Y NMR. However, the spectra we obtain are consistent with a random distribution of Sn/Ti on the pyrochlore B sites. Finally, we consider whether an equilibrium structure has been achieved by investigating materials that have been annealed for different durations.
Field experiments can provide compelling demonstrations of social learning in wild populations. Social learning has been experimentally demonstrated in at least 23 field experiments, in 20 species, covering a range of contexts, such as foraging preferences and techniques, habitat choice, and predator avoidance. We review experimental approaches taken in the field and with wild animals brought into captivity and note how these approaches can be extended. Relocating individuals, introducing trained individual demonstrators or novel behaviors into a population, or providing demonstrator-manipulated artifacts can establish whether and how a particular act can be socially transmitted in the wild and can help elucidate the benefits of social learning. The type, strength, and consistency of presented social information can be varied, and the provision of conditions favoring the performance of an act can both establish individual discovery rates and help determine whether social information is needed for acquisition. By blocking particular avenues of social transmission or removing key individuals, routes of transmission in wild populations can be investigated. Manipulation of conditions proposed to favor social learning can test mathematical models of the evolution of social learning. We illustrate how field experiments are a viable, vital, and informative approach to the study of social learning.
Evolutionary questions require specialized approaches, part of which are comparisons between close relatives. However, to understand the origins of human tool behavior, comparisons with solely chimpanzees are insufficient, lacking the power to identify derived traits. Moreover, tool use is unlikely a unitary phenomenon. Large-scale comparative analyses provide an alternative and suggest that tool use co-evolves with a suite of cognitive traits.
Many vertebrates rely extensively on social information, but the value of information produced by other individuals will vary across contexts and habitats. Social learning may thus be optimized by the use of developmental or current cues to determine its likely value. Here, we show that a developmental cue, early maternal care, correlates with social learning propensities in adult rodents. The maternal behavior of rats Rattus norvegicus with their litters was scored over the first 6 days postpartum. Rat dams show consistent individual differences in the rate they lick and groom (LG) pups, allowing them to be categorized as high, low, or mid-LG mothers. The 100-day old male offspring of high and low-LG mothers were given the opportunity to learn food preferences for novel diets from conspecifics that had previously eaten these diets ("demonstrators"). Offspring of high-LG mothers socially learned food preferences, but offspring of low-LG mothers did not. We administered oxytocin to subjects to address the hypothesis that it would increase the propensity for social learning, but there were no detectable effects. Our data raise the possibility that social learning propensities may be both relatively stable throughout life and part of a suite of traits "adaptively programmed" by early developmental experiences.
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