As always, Cecilia Heyes asks the right question: What’s social about social learning? Nothing, she answers, except for social inputs. There are two points: (1) social and asocial learning use same mechanisms; (2) social inputs make sociality unique. The first point is appealing, the second one looks tautological, but it is not. Let us see why. Three points: (1) the exhibited list include only three animal-learning typologies (stimulus enhancement, observational conditioning and observational learning), not considering the generally accepted distinction between emulation/imitation (e.g. Byrne & Russon, 1998) and this cannot be a slip; (2) uniqueness of social learning is trivially explained by inputs; (3) all the article looks like the pars destruens of a more completed reasoning. As a matter of fact, there is one theory, widely valued, which underlines qualitative differences among social learning strategies, saying that just one strategy produces “TRUE CULTURE” (e.g. Tomasello, 1999; 2008; 2009). Heyes’ pointing on identity of mechanisms could mean that these differences (emulation, imitation, true imitation, over-imitation) are not momentous. Therefore, we can suppose that (a) environmental factors, which in primates are social factors, affect abilities of social transmission considerably; (b) explaining sociality’ uniqueness does not require evolutionary adaptations, but simpler things as differences in inputs; (c) ontogenetic inheritance is otherwise significant. If this was the theoretical, tacit framework of this article, I could have not agreed more.
Byrne, R.W. & Russon, A.E. (1998) Learning by imitation: A hierarchical approach. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 21: 667-721. http://web.media.mit.edu/~cynthiab/Readings/Byrne-Russon98.pdf
Heyes, C. (2011) What’s Social About Social Learning? Journal of Comparative Psychology, (online first). http://www.all-souls.ox.ac.uk/users/heyesc/Celia’s%20pdfs/94%202011%20Heyes%20What’s%20social.pdf
Tomasello, M. (1999) The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition. Harvard University Press
Tomasello, M. (2008) Origins of Human Communication. Cambridge, Ma- London, En: MIT Press
Tomasello, M. (2009) Why We Cooperate? Cambridge, Ma- London, En: MIT Press