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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Dr Jeremy Kendal

Hoppitt, W.J.E., Kandler, A., Kendal J.R. & Laland K.N. (2010). The effect of task structure on diffusion dynamics: Implications for diffusion curve and network-based analyses. Learning and Behavior 38(3): 243-251.

Author(s) from Durham


Theoretical analyses within the broad field of social learning research give mixed conclusions on whether
the shape of a diffusion curve can be used to infer that a learned trait increases through social or asocial learning.
Here we explore how factors such as task structure (e.g., multiple-step tasks), task abandonment, subgoal
learning, and neophobia affect the shape of the diffusion curve for both asocially learned and socially learned
behavior. We demonstrate that, whereas social learning increases the likelihood of S-shaped curves, sigmoidal
patterns can be generated by entirely asocial processes, and cannot be reliably interpreted as indicators of
social learning. Our findings reinforce the view that diffusion curve analysis is not a reliable way of detecting
social transmission. We also draw attention to the fact that task structure can similarly confound interpretation
of network-based diffusion analyses, and suggest resolutions to this problem.