Trusting and learning from others: Immediate and long-term effects of learning from observation and advice

Uri Hertz, Vaughan Bell, Nichola Raihani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social learning underpins our species's extraordinary success. Learning through observation has been investigated in several species, but learning from advice - where information is intentionally broadcast - is less understood. We used a pre-registered, online experiment (n = 1492) combined with computational modelling to examine learning through observation and advice. Participants were more likely to immediately follow advice than to copy an observed choice, but this was dependent upon trust in the adviser: highly paranoid participants were less likely to follow advice in the short term. Reinforcement learning modelling revealed two distinct patterns regarding the long-term effects of social information: some individuals relied fully on social information, whereas others reverted to trial-and-error learning. This variation may affect the prevalence and fidelity of socially transmitted information. Our results highlight the privileged status of advice relative to observation and how the assimilation of intentionally broadcast information is affected by trust in others.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20211414
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1961
StatePublished - 27 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors.


  • advice
  • paranoia
  • reinforcement learning
  • reputation
  • social learning
  • trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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