Co-evolution of learning complexity and social foraging strategies

Michal Arbilly, Uzi Motro, Marcus W. Feldman, Arnon Lotem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Variation in learning abilities within populations suggests that complex learning may not necessarily be more adaptive than simple learning. Yet, the high cost of complex learning cannot fully explain this variation without some understanding of why complex learning is too costly for some individuals but not for others. Here we propose that different social foraging strategies can favor different learning strategies (that learn the environment with high or low resolution), thereby maintaining variable learning abilities within populations. Using a genetic algorithm in an agent-based evolutionary simulation of a social foraging game (the producer-scrounger game) we demonstrate how an association evolves between a strategy based on independent search for food (playing a producer) and a complex (high resolution) learning rule, while a strategy that combines independent search and following others (playing a scrounger) evolves an association with a simple (low resolution) learning rule. The reason for these associations is that for complex learning to have an advantage, a large number of learning steps, normally not achieved by scroungers, are necessary. These results offer a general explanation for persistent variation in cognitive abilities that is based on co-evolution of learning rules and social foraging strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-581
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 21 Dec 2010


  • Cognition
  • Foraging
  • Game theory


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