Animal social networks as substrate for cultural behavioural diversity

Hal Whitehead, David Lusseau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


We used individual-based stochastic models to examine how social structure influences the diversity of socially learned behaviour within a non-human population. For continuous behavioural variables we modelled three forms of dyadic social learning, averaging the behavioural value of the two individuals, random transfer of information from one individual to the other, and directional transfer from the individual with highest behavioural value to the other. Learning had potential error. We also examined the transfer of categorical behaviour between individuals with random directionality and two forms of error, the adoption of a randomly chosen existing behavioural category or the innovation of a new type of behaviour. In populations without social structuring the diversity of culturally transmitted behaviour increased with learning error and population size. When the populations were structured socially either by making individuals members of permanent social units or by giving them overlapping ranges, behavioural diversity increased with network modularity under all scenarios, although the proportional increase varied considerably between continuous and categorical behaviour, with transmission mechanism, and population size. Although functions of the form e(c1m-c2+c3log(N)) predicted the mean increase in diversity with modularity (m) and population size (N), behavioural diversity could be highly unpredictable both between simulations with the same set of parameters, and within runs. Errors in social learning and social structuring generally promote behavioural diversity. Consequently, social learning may be considered to produce culture in populations whose social structure is sufficiently modular. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-28
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number-
Early online date29 Oct 2011
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2012


  • Social learning
  • Association index
  • Social structure
  • Physeter-Macrocephalus
  • Community structure
  • Sperm-whales
  • Evolution
  • Transmission
  • Dynamics
  • Consequences
  • Associations
  • Information
  • Propagation


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