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Exploring the costs and benefits of social information use: an appraisal of current experimental evidence

Guillaume Rieucau and Luc-Alain Giraldeau
Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences
Vol. 366, No. 1567, Culture evolves (12 April 2011), pp. 949-957
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41148924
Page Count: 9
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Exploring the costs and benefits of social information use: an appraisal of current experimental evidence
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Abstract

Research on social learning has focused traditionally on whether animals possess the cognitive ability to learn novel motor patterns from tutors. More recently, social learning has included the use of others as sources of inadvertent social information. This type of social learning seems more taxonomically widespread and its use can more readily be approached as an economic decision. Social sampling information, however, can be tricky to use and calls for a more lucid appraisal of its costs. In this four-part review, we address these costs. Firstly, we address the possibility that only a fraction of group members are actually providing social information at any one time. Secondly, we review experimental research which shows that animals are circumspect about social information use. Thirdly, we consider the cases where social information can lead to incorrect decisions and finally, we review studies investigating the effect of social information quality. We address the possibility that using social information or not is not a binary decision and present results of a study showing that nutmeg mannikins combine both sources of information, a condition that can lead to the establishment of informational cascades. We discuss the importance of empirically investigating the economics of social information use.

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