Social Learning

The ability to learn from watching another individual's behavior is incredibly important for the transmission of learned information and innovations throughout a group. Social learning enables individuals to benefit from the expertise and knowledge of other group members, and represents the basis for formation of traditions and culture. We are interested in understanding the evolutionary bases of social learning and how learning in general may be affected by the social context in which it occurs.

Dr. Sarah Benson-Amram investigated whether hyenas learn from watching another hyena solve a novel problem, and which mechanism of social learning they utilize. This work was done in collaboration with Dr. Kay Holekamp (Michigan State University) and with Mary Weldele (UC Berkeley).

We are interested in understanding how social networks and the strength of relationships affect the spread of information through groups of animals. We are using European starlings and zebra finches to study these questions in collaboration with Dr. Kevin Laland, Dr. Neeltje Boogert, Dr. Glenna Evans, Dr. Will Hoppitt, Andrew Whalen, Dr. Lauren Guillette, and Dr. Chris Templeton (University of St. Andrews). Lisa Barrett, a PhD student in the lab, is studying social learning, in addition to personality and cognition, in elephants and zebra finches.

Fanelli, R. May 2015. Personality and association patterns among individuals: two metrics for analyzing the innovation and spread of novel traits in a captive group of common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Presentation given at the 2015 University of Wyoming Undergraduate Research Day.