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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Flynn, E., Turner, C. & Giraldeau, L.-A. (2016). Selectivity in social and asocial learning: investigating the prevalence, effect and development of young children's learning preferences. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 371(1690): 20150189.

Author(s) from Durham


Culture evolution requires both modification and faithful replication of behaviour, thus it is essential to understand how individuals choose between social and asocial learning. In a quasi-experimental design, 3- and 5-year-olds (176), and adults (52) were presented individually with two novel artificial fruits, and told of the apparatus' relative difficulty (easy versus hard). Participants were asked if they wanted to attempt the task themselves or watch an experimenter attempt it first; and then had their preference either met or violated. A significant proportion of children and adults (74%) chose to learn socially. For children, this request was efficient, as observing a demonstration made them significantly quicker at the task than learning asocially. However, for 5-year-olds, children who selected asocial learning were also found to be highly efficient at the task, showing that by 5 years children are selective in choosing a learning strategy that is effective for them. Adults further evidenced this trend, and also showed selectivity based on task difficulty. This is the first study to examine the rates, performance outcomes and developmental trajectory of preferences in asocial and social learning, ultimately informing our understanding of innovation.

School of Education