Ofer Tchernichovski
Fri 10 Jun 2016, 11:00 - 12:30
Informatics Forum (IF-4.31/4.33)

If you have a question about this talk, please contact: Diana Dalla Costa (ddallac)


Distributed social learning may occur at many temporal and spatial scales, from a school of sardines making an instantaneous decision to change direction, to a population of sparrows establishing a song dialect over years. A local song dialect consists of a shared vocabulary of syllable types, which is both stable and diverse. How does social learning add up to a stable but rich culture? We review birdsong studies focusing on three observations. First, distinct syllable types are generated during early song development, potentially facilitating the sharing of a discrete vocabulary.  Second, directional biases in the copying of song features constrain the range of song feature distributions, potentially reducing drift over generations. Finally, highly abundant syllable types are copied less frequently, promoting diversity. Therefore, signal filtering during transmission appears to promote both stability and diversity in song culture. We next review studies of opinion spreading through social networks, focusing on mechanistic parallels between the retention of minority opinion and retaining diversity in birdsong culture. Manipulating the structure, or the information sharing protocols, of social networks may affect information diffusion, and therefore the efficiency of social learning. However, much less is known about how to balance the flow of social influences in a manner that can allow minority views to be sustained across iterations. Preliminary studies now test the feasibility of designing communication systems based on features of natural cultures, which evolved for sustaining cultural stability and diversity through social learning.


Prof. Ofer Tchernichovski

Department of Psychology, Hunter College, New York, USA
Email: otcherni@hunter.cuny.edu