The ontogeny of selective social learning: young children flexibly adopt majority- or payoff-based biases depending on task uncertainty  

Emily R.R. Burdett, Andrew Whiten, Nicola McGuigan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Humans have adapted well to diverse environments in part because of their ability to efficiently acquire information from their social environment. However, we still know very little as to how young children acquire cultural knowledge and in particular the circumstances under which children prioritize social learning over asocial learning. In this study, we asked whether children will selectively adopt either a majority-biased or payoff-biased social learning strategy in the presence or absence of asocial learning. The 3- to 5-year-olds (N = 117) were first shown a video in which four other children took turns in retrieving a capsule housing a reward from one of two boxes. Three of the children (the “majority”) retrieved a capsule from the same box, and a single individual (the “minority”) retrieved a capsule from the alternative box. Across four conditions, we manipulated both the value of the rewards available in each box (equal or unequal payoff) and whether children had knowledge of the payoff before making their own selection. Results show that children adopted a majority-biased learning strategy when they were unaware of the value of the rewards available but adopted a payoff-biased strategy when the payoff was known to be unequal. We conclude that children are strategic social learners who integrate both social and asocial learning to maximize personal gain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105307
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Volume214
Early online date12 Nov 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Nov 2021

Keywords

  • selective learning
  • cultural learning
  • social learning
  • majority bias
  • payoff bias

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