Social Learning in Animals: The Roots of Culture

By Cecilia M. Heyes; Bennett G. Galef Jr. | Go to book overview
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Is Social Learning an Adaptive Specialization?
Department of BiologyDepartment of Biology
McGill University Concordia University
Montréal, Québec, Canada H3A 1B1
Montréal Québec, Canada H3G 1M8


L earning, like other behavioral or structural traits, may vary in its usefulness according to the particular environmental problems an animal faces. In psychology, Rozin and Kalat ( 1971) were the first to propose explicitly that some learning abilities could be seen as adaptive specializations molded by natural selection to cope with particular ecological demands. Three major assumptions underlie this view: (1) learning is not a single, general, set of rules for the modification of behavior, but an assemblage of discrete abilities that may be oriented in different directions in different contexts; (2) because different species face different ecological contexts, learning abilities can be expected to vary across species; and (3) the origin of ecologically correlated learning differences is divergent natural selection. Rozin and Kalat's (1971) views have since been expanded and applied to particular types of learning by, among others, Roper (1983), Sherry and Schacter (1987), Rozin and Schull (1988), and Shettleworth (1993).

As Shettleworth (1993) points out, adaptive specialization is part of a wider, ecological, program for the study of learning. Several logical (Plotkin & OdlingSmee, 1979; Johnston, 1982) and mathematical (Stephens, 1991) models for the evolution of learning also fall within this ecological program, as does recent comparative work on spatial memory in birds and mammals (Balda & Kamil, 1989; Hilton & Krebs, 1990; Sherry, Jacobs, & Gaulin, 1992) and flower exploitation skills in hymenoptera (Laverty, 1994; Laverty & Plowright, 1988; Dukas & Real, 1991).


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Social Learning in Animals: The Roots of Culture


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