Modeling imitation and emulation in constrained search spaces

Alberto Acerbi, Claudio Tennie, Charles L Nunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Social transmission of behavior can be realized through distinct mechanisms. Research on primate social learning typically distinguishes two forms of information that a learner can extract from a demonstrator: copying actions (defined as imitation) or copying only the consequential results (defined as emulation). We propose a decomposition of these learning mechanisms (plus pure individual learning) that incorporates the core idea that social learning can be represented as a search for an optimal behavior that is constrained by different kinds of information. We illustrate our approach with an individual-based model in which individuals solve tasks in abstract "spaces" that represent behavioral actions, results, and benefits of those results. Depending on the learning mechanisms at their disposal, individuals have differential access to the information conveyed in these spaces. We show how different classes of tasks may provide distinct advantages to individuals with different learning mechanisms and discuss how our approach contributes to current empirical and theoretical research on social learning and culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-14
Number of pages11
JournalLearning & Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • Models, Psychological
  • Learning
  • Computer Simulation
  • Social Behavior
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Social Environment


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