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Title: Establishing predictors of learning strategies : an investigation of the development of, and evolutionary foundations of, intrinsic and extrinsic factors influencing when we learn from others and from whom we learn
Author: Rawlings, Bruce
ISNI:       0000 0004 7426 9002
Awarding Body: Durham University
Current Institution: Durham University
Date of Award: 2018
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Innovation and social learning are the dual pillars of cultural evolution, yet we know little about individual differences in propensity to use these learning strategies. This thesis investigated whether intrinsic and extrinsic individual differences predict the use of social or asocial information when faced with novel problems, from a developmental (children) and comparative (chimpanzees) perspective. Using an experimental approach, both species were presented with novel, multi-action puzzle-boxes, and measures of personality (children and chimpanzees) and social network positions (children) were collated and correlated with learning strategy use. Overall, children showed a comparatively greater reliance on social information than chimpanzees; while the majority of seven- to 11-year old children explicitly elected for social information when it was offered, most chimpanzees interacted with a puzzle-box where asocial learning was required before one offering social demonstrations, and chimpanzees’ puzzle-box behaviour was not influenced by three different forms of social information (video demonstrations of ‘conspecific hands’, human demonstrations and observations of conspecifics during task interaction). Personality (agreeableness, openness to experience and conscientiousness) was an important predictor of children’s learning strategies, both in terms of children’s overt choice for and fidelity to witnessed behaviours. By contrast, while there was tentative evidence that ratings of dominance predicted the propensity to observe video demonstrations, personality otherwise was not correlated with chimpanzees’ learning strategy behaviours. Additionally, children identified as having many social connections were more innovative both in terms of asocial exploration and deviation from adult demonstrations. Certain themes also emerged throughout this thesis; children displayed a negative age-related trend in the propensity to use social information. In both children and chimpanzees, females showed a greater propensity to acquire social information, while the use of multiple tasks revealed novel insights into consistencies in cross-task performance in terms of both children’s innovative behaviours and chimpanzees’ use of different types of social information. Specifically, children who overtly elected to solve a novel puzzle-box asocially were more likely to manufacture a tool on an innovation challenge and scored higher on a measure of creativity, compared to children who elected for social demonstrations. In chimpanzees, observations of video demonstrations were correlated with observations of human demonstrations, as was the propensity to observe conspecifics during task interaction across both experiments. By revealing cross-species similarities and differences concerning how personality and social network positions predict learning strategy use, this thesis sheds new light on how cultures emerge and establish, and the evolutionary trajectory of human culture. The methodological and cultural implications, as well as potential future directions, are discussed.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available