Social Learning: Psychological and Biological Perspectives

By Thomas R. Zentall; Bennett G. Galef Jr. | Go to book overview

7
Mechanisms, Ecology, and Population Diffusion of Socially Learned, Food-Finding Behavior in Feral Pigeons

Louis Lefebvre McGill University

Boris Palameta University of Cambridge. McGill University


INTRODUCTION

The study of socially learned feeding behavior has traditionally focused on two distinct approaches: field descriptions of behavioral innovations thought to have been socially transmitted and controlled laboratory experiments on the mechanisms underlying social learning. Although social learning is often said to be rare in animals (e.g., Boyd & Richerson, 1983), field observations of possible social influences on a variety of learned food searching and handling behavior have been reported in the literature. A list (not intended to be exhaustive) of these field reports, along with some observations made in captivity, is presented in Table 7.1. Although such reports are intriguing in their diversity and often spectacular nature, many of them are frustratingly speculative and anecdotal. Skeptics can thus easily claim that social learning in animals has not been rigorously documented.

When attempts have been made in the laboratory to investigate the nature of the mechanisms involved in social learning phenomena, most of the experimental designs and casks used have been unrelated to the types of behavior reported to be learned in the field, e.g., pigeons pecking at a disk ( Bullock & Neuringer, 1977; Skinner, 1962) or at a Ping-Pong ball ( Epstein, 1984), rats ( Corson, 1967; Gardner & Engel, 1971; Jacoby & Dawson, 1969) and cats ( Chesler, 1969; John, Chesler, Bartlett, & Victor, 1968) pressing on a lever,

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