Toelch U, Bruce MJ, Newson L, Richerson PJ, Reader SM.
Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Dec 18;281(1776):20132864.
Copying others appears to be a cost-effective way of obtaining adaptive information, particularly when flexibly employed. However, adult humans differ considerably in their propensity to use information from others, even when this 'social information' is beneficial, raising the possibility that stable individual differences constrain flexibility in social information use. We used two dissimilar decision-making computer games to investigate whether individuals flexibly adjusted their use of social information to current conditions or whether they valued social information similarly in both games. Participants also completed established personality questionnaires. We found that participants demonstrated considerable flexibility, adjusting social information use to current conditions. In particular, individuals employed a 'copy-when-uncertain' social learning strategy, supporting a core, but untested, assumption of influential theoretical models of cultural transmission. Moreover, participants adjusted the amount invested in their decision based on the perceived reliability of personally gathered information combined with the available social information. However, despite this strategic flexibility, participants also exhibited consistent individual differences in their propensities to use and value social information. Moreover, individuals who favoured social information self-reported as more collectivist than others. We discuss the implications of our results for social information use and cultural transmission.