Social Learning Strategies in Networked Groups


  • Portions of this research were included in the first author's doctoral dissertation and published in the proceedings of the annual meetings of the Cognitive Science Society in 2008 and 2010.


When making decisions, humans can observe many kinds of information about others' activities, but their effects on performance are not well understood. We investigated social learning strategies using a simple problem-solving task in which participants search a complex space, and each can view and imitate others' solutions. Results showed that participants combined multiple sources of information to guide learning, including payoffs of peers' solutions, popularity of solution elements among peers, similarity of peers' solutions to their own, and relative payoffs from individual exploration. Furthermore, performance was positively associated with imitation rates at both the individual and group levels. When peers' payoffs were hidden, popularity and similarity biases reversed, participants searched more broadly and randomly, and both quality and equity of exploration suffered. We conclude that when peers' solutions can be effectively compared, imitation does not simply permit scrounging, but it can also facilitate propagation of good solutions for further cumulative exploration.