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Front Neurosci. 2012 Sep 3;6:127. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00127. eCollection 2012.

Social learning as a way to overcome choice-induced preferences? Insights from humans and rhesus macaques.

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  • 1INSERM, U1028, ImpAct Team, Lyon Neuroscience Research Center Lyon, France.


Much theoretical attention is currently devoted to social learning. Yet, empirical studies formally comparing its effectiveness relative to individual learning are rare. Here, we focus on free choice, which is at the heart of individual reward-based learning, but absent in social learning. Choosing among two equally valued options is known to create a preference for the selected option in both humans and monkeys. We thus surmised that social learning should be more helpful when choice-induced preferences retard individual learning than when they optimize it. To test this prediction, the same task requiring to find which among two items concealed a reward was applied to rhesus macaques and humans. The initial trial was individual or social, rewarded or unrewarded. Learning was assessed on the second trial. Choice-induced preference strongly affected individual learning. Monkeys and humans performed much more poorly after an initial negative choice than after an initial positive choice. Comparison with social learning verified our prediction. For negative outcome, social learning surpassed or at least equaled individual learning in all subjects. For positive outcome, the predicted superiority of individual learning did occur in a majority of subjects (5/6 monkeys and 6/12 humans). A minority kept learning better socially though, perhaps due to a more dominant/aggressive attitude toward peers. Poor learning from errors due to over-valuation of personal choices is among the decision-making biases shared by humans and animals. The present study suggests that choice-immune social learning may help curbing this potentially harmful tendency. Learning from successes is an easier path. The present data suggest that whether one tends to walk it alone or with a peer's help might depend on the social dynamics within the actor/observer dyad.


choice-induced preference; cognitive biases; humans; reinforcement learning; rhesus macaques; social learning

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