The Evolutionary and Comparative Psychology of Social Learning and Culture

Lydia M. Hopper and Andrew Whiten

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738182
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

The Evolutionary and Comparative Psychology of Social Learning and Culture


Social learning allows for the transmission of information between individuals and, potentially, across generations. In addition to increasing the efficiency by which new behaviors are learned it can also facilitate the propagation of behavioral traditions and, ultimately, culture. In the first half of this chapter we describe the social learning mechanisms that define how information is transmitted, under what circumstances social learning is advantageous, and provide an evolutionary perspective by illustrating different species' propensities for social learning. Through the second half of this chapter we compare the behavioral traditions observed among animals in the wild. We discuss the defining features of human culture and whether any animals, other than ourselves, can be considered “cultural.” We conclude that although human material culture was long thought to be a defining hallmark of our species, current reports from both the wild and captivity have begun to dispel the notion that we are the only cultural beings.

Keywords: culture; cultural transmission; social learning mechanisms; social learning strategies; teaching; cumulative culture

Article.  18364 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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