Social learning in animals
Social learning involves the transfer of information from a more experienced individual to a naive one. A subset of social learning is observational learning in which a demonstrator influences the behavior of an observer such that the observer's behavior is altered in subsequent analogous situations. Social learning has been observed in a variety of animal taxa, including fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals—especially primates.Social learning is fundamentally different from individual learning, or asocial learning, which involves learning the appropriate responses to an environment through experience and trial and error. Though asocial learning may result in the acquisition of reliable information, it is often costly for the individual to obtain. Therefore, individuals that are able to capitalize on other individuals' self-acquired information may experience a fitness benefit. However, because social learning relies on the actions of others rather than direct contact, it can be unreliable. This is especially true in variable environments, where appropriate behaviors may change frequently. Consequently, social learning is most beneficial in stable environments, in which predators, food, and other stimuli are not likely to change rapidly.When social learning is actively facilitated by an experienced individual, it is classified as teaching. Mechanisms of inadvertent social learning relate primarily to psychological processes in the observer, whereas teaching processes relate specifically to activities of the demonstrator. Studying the mechanisms of information transmission allows researchers to better understand how animals make decisions by observing others' behaviors and obtaining information.