What is the extent of a frequency-dependent social learning strategy space?

Aysha Bellamy, Ryan McKay, Sonja Vogt, Charles Efferson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Downloads (Pure)


Models of frequency-dependent social learning posit that individuals respond to the commonality of behaviours without additional variables modifying this. Such strategies bring important trade-offs e.g., conformity is beneficial when observing people facing the same task but harmful when observing those facing a different task. Instead of rigidly responding to frequencies, however, social learners might modulate their response given additional information. To see, we ran an incentivised experiment where participants played either a game against nature or a coordination game. There were three types of information: (i) choice frequencies in a group of demonstrators, (ii) an indication of whether these demonstrators learned in a similar or different environment, and (iii) an indication about the reliability of this similarity information. Similarity information was either reliably correct, uninformative, or reliably incorrect, where reliably correct and reliably incorrect treatments provided participants with equivalent earning opportunities. Participants adjusted their decision-making to all three types of information. Adjustments, however, were asymmetric, with participants doing especially well when conforming to demonstrators who were reliably similar to them. The overall response, however, was more fluid and complex than this one case. This flexibility should attenuate the trade-offs commonly assumed to shape the evolution of frequency-dependent social learning strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13
Pages (from-to)1-29
Number of pages29
JournalEvolutionary Human Sciences
Early online date13 Apr 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Apr 2022


  • Social learning
  • frequency-dependent social learning
  • Conformity
  • Cultural evolution
  • Social norms

Cite this