Social learning and evolution: the cultural intelligence hypothesis.

If social learning is more efficient than independent individual exploration, animals should learn vital cultural skills exclusively, and routine skills faster, through social learning, provided they actually use social learning preferentially. Animals with opportunities for social learning indeed do so. Moreover, more frequent opportunities for social learning should boost an individual’s repertoire of learned skills. This prediction is confirmed by comparisons among wild great ape populations and by social deprivation and enculturation experiments. These findings shaped the cultural intelligence hypothesis, which complements the traditional benefit hypotheses for the evolution of intelligence by specifying the conditions in which these benefits can be reaped. The evolutionary version of the hypothesis argues that species with frequent opportunities for social learning should more readily respond to selection for a greater number of learned skills. Because improved social learning also improves asocial learning, the hypothesis predicts a positive interspecific correlation between social-learning performance and individual learning ability. Variation among primates supports this prediction. The hypothesis also predicts that more heavily cultural species should be more intelligent. Preliminary tests involving birds and mammals support this prediction too. The cultural intelligence hypothesis can also account for the unusual cognitive abilities of humans, as well as our unique mechanisms of skill transfer.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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