Sensitivity to Shared Information in Social Learning

Andrew Whalen, Thomas L. Griffiths, Daphna Buchsbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Social learning has been shown to be an evolutionarily adaptive strategy, but it can be implemented via many different cognitive mechanisms. The adaptive advantage of social learning depends crucially on the ability of each learner to obtain relevant and accurate information from informants. The source of informants’ knowledge is a particularly important cue for evaluating advice from multiple informants; if the informants share the source of their information or have obtained their information from each other, then their testimony is statistically dependent and may be less reliable than testimony from informants who do not share information. In this study, we use a Bayesian model to determine how rational learners should incorporate the effects of shared information when learning from other people, conducting three experiments that examine whether human learners behave similarly. We find that people are sensitive to a number of different patterns of dependency, supporting the use of a sophisticated strategy for social learning that goes beyond copying the majority, and broadening the situations in which social learning is likely to be an adaptive strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)168-187
Number of pages20
JournalCognitive science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Bayesian modeling
  • Culture
  • Human experimentation
  • Mathematical modeling
  • Psychology


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