The extent to which animal societies exhibit social conformity as opposed to behavioural diversity is commonly attributed to adaptive learning strategies. Less attention is given to the possibility that the relative difficulty of learning a task socially as opposed to individually can be critical for social learning dynamics. Here we show that by raising initial task difficulty, house sparrows previously shown to exhibit adaptive social diversity become predominantly conformists. The task we used required opening feeding well covers (easier to learn socially) and to choose the covers with the rewarding cues (easy to learn individually). We replicated a previous study where sparrows exhibited adaptive diversity, but did not pre-train the naive sparrows to open covers, making the task initially more difficult. In sharp contrast to the previous study results, most sparrows continued to conform to the demonstrated cue even after experiencing greater success with the alternative rewarding cue for which competition was less intense. Thus, our study shows that a task's cognitive demands, such as the initial dependency on social demonstration, can change the entire learning dynamics, causing social animals to exhibit sub-optimal social conformity rather than adaptive diversity under otherwise identical conditions.
- social foraging
- social learning