Clearly, differences exist in the degree of plasticity of learning in different avian species, and the particular features of social interaction crucial for exceptional learning are likely to vary. My point has simply been to suggest that scientific investigations, whether they occur in the field or laboratory, should examine the possible significance of social interaction, observation, and referentiality on various forms of learning, and carefully monitor the extent to which social interaction, observation, and referentiality can affect or effect change.
With respect to avian vocal learning, social modeling theory provides a framework for understanding the significance of social interaction and observational learning for the acquisition of exceptional communication codes. The idea that a close and individual relationship may be necessary to effect learning probably has much wider application; that is, it is unlikely that the application of social modeling theory is limited to communicative behaviors. Future investigations should therefore examine the degree to which this theory can be applied to understanding the mechanisms underlying other animal behaviors.
This research was supported by National Science Foundation grants BNS 7912945, 8014329, 8414483, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. I thank Denise Neapolitan, Jeff Galef, and Tom Zentall for critical comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.
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