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      Social learning spreads knowledge about dangerous humans among American crows

      1 , 1 , 1

      Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

      The Royal Society

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          Abstract

          Individuals face evolutionary trade-offs between the acquisition of costly but accurate information gained firsthand and the use of inexpensive but possibly less reliable social information. American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) use both sources of information to learn the facial features of a dangerous person. We exposed wild crows to a novel 'dangerous face' by wearing a unique mask as we trapped, banded and released 7-15 birds at five study sites near Seattle, WA, USA. An immediate scolding response to the dangerous mask after trapping by previously captured crows demonstrates individual learning, while an immediate response by crows that were not captured probably represents conditioning to the trapping scene by the mob of birds that assembled during the capture. Later recognition of dangerous masks by lone crows that were never captured is consistent with horizontal social learning. Independent scolding by young crows, whose parents had conditioned them to scold the dangerous mask, demonstrates vertical social learning. Crows that directly experienced trapping later discriminated among dangerous and neutral masks more precisely than did crows that learned through social means. Learning enabled scolding to double in frequency and spread at least 1.2 km from the place of origin over a 5 year period at one site.

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          Most cited references 39

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          Social learning in animals: categories and mechanisms.

           C Heyes (1994)
          There has been relatively little research on the psychological mechanisms of social learning. This may be due, in part, to the practice of distinguishing categories of social learning in relation to ill-defined mechanisms (Davis, 1973; Galef, 1988). This practice both makes it difficult to identify empirically examples of different types of social learning, and gives the false impression that the mechanisms responsible for social learning are clearly understood. It has been proposed that social learning phenomena be subsumed within the categorization scheme currently used by investigators of asocial learning. This scheme distinguishes categories of learning according to observable conditions, namely, the type of experience that gives rise to a change in an animal (single stimulus vs. stimulus-stimulus relationship vs. response-reinforcer relationship), and the type of behaviour in which this change is detected (response evocation vs. learnability) (Rescorla, 1988). Specifically, three alignments have been proposed: (i) stimulus enhancement with single stimulus learning, (ii) observational conditioning with stimulus-stimulus learning, or Pavlovian conditioning, and (iii) observational learning with response-reinforcer learning, or instrumental conditioning. If, as the proposed alignments suggest, the conditions of social and asocial learning are the same, there is some reason to believe that the mechanisms underlying the two sets of phenomena are also the same. This is so if one makes the relatively uncontroversial assumption that phenomena which occur under similar conditions tend to be controlled by similar mechanisms. However, the proposed alignments are intended to be a set of hypotheses, rather than conclusions, about the mechanisms of social learning; as a basis for further research in which animal learning theory is applied to social learning. A concerted attempt to apply animal learning theory to social learning, to find out whether the same mechanisms are responsible for social and asocial learning, could lead both to refinements of the general theory, and to a better understanding of the mechanisms of social learning. There are precedents for these positive developments in research applying animal learning theory to food aversion learning (e.g. Domjan, 1983; Rozin & Schull, 1988) and imprinting (e.g. Bolhuis, de Vox & Kruit, 1990; Hollis, ten Cate & Bateson, 1991). Like social learning, these phenomena almost certainly play distinctive roles in the antogeny of adaptive behaviour, and they are customarily regarded as 'special kinds' of learning (Shettleworth, 1993).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
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            Social learning about predators: a review and prospectus.

            In comparison with social learning about food, social learning about predators has received little attention. Yet such research is of potential interest to students of animal cognition and conservation biologists. I summarize evidence for social learning about predators by fish, birds, eutherian mammals, and marsupials. I consider the proposal that this phenomenon is a case of S-S classical conditioning and suggest that evolution may have modified some of the properties of learning to accommodate for the requirements of learning socially about danger. I discuss some between-species differences in the properties of socially acquired predator avoidance and suggest that learning may be faster and more robust in species in which alarm behavior reliably predicts high predatory threat. Finally, I highlight how studies of socially acquired predator avoidance can inform the design of prerelease antipredator training programs for endangered species.
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              Social Learning in Animals: Empirical Studies and Theoretical Models

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
                Proc. R. Soc. B
                The Royal Society
                0962-8452
                1471-2954
                July 06 2011
                February 07 2012
                June 29 2011
                February 07 2012
                : 279
                : 1728
                : 499-508
                Affiliations
                [1 ]School of Forest Resources, College of the Environment, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
                Article
                10.1098/rspb.2011.0957
                3234554
                21715408
                © 2012

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