Reproductive skew affects social information use

Marco Smolla, Charlotte Rosher, Tucker Gilman, Susanne Shultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Individuals vary in their propensity to use social learning, the engine of cultural evolution, to acquire information about their environment. The causes of those differences, however, remain largely unclear. Using an agent-based model, we tested the hypothesis that as a result of reproductive skew differences in energetic requirements for reproduction affect the value of social information. We found that social learning is associated with lower variance in yield and is more likely to evolve in risk-averse low-skew populations than in high-skew populations. Reproductive skew may also result in sex differences in social information use, as empirical data suggest that females are often more risk-averse than males. To explore how risk may affect sex differences in learning strategies, we simulated learning in sexually reproducing populations where one sex experiences more reproductive skew than the other. When both sexes compete for the same resources, they tend to adopt extreme strategies: the sex with greater reproductive skew approaches pure individual learning and the other approaches pure social learning. These results provide insight into the conditions that promote individual and species level variation in social learning and so may affect cultural evolution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number182084
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2019


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