ESLR Seminar Schedule and Sign-up page

ESLR Seminar Series

This year we will start our ESLR Seminar Series with a focus on the research of ECRs with a first round on Social Learning. The seminar takes place on Zoom on Thursday at 4pm CEST.

Talks should be about 20-30 minutes long, be a work in progress, a pre-print or a finished project and should have an ECR as the main (or one of the main) researchers.


May 27th, 2021Rachel HarrisonThe Natural History of Conformity
Accounts of conformist transmission have delineated two functional benefits for conformity; informational (copying the majority in order to access the most successful behaviour) and normative (copying the majority to fit in socially). Normative conformity has also been termed social conformity when majority-biased learning serving to facilitate social integration is observed in non-human animals. 
We will argue that, rather than informational and social conformity being underpinned by separate mechanisms, all conformist social learning may be derived from a drive to fit in socially. We expect this to be particularly true of animals living in stable social groups. The potential ecological adaptiveness of behaviours acquired via conformist social learning may therefore be a by-product of a (likely implicit) strategy to promote social integration. Thus, in group-living animals like human and nonhuman primates, the same mechanism (a preference for behavioural synchrony) seems to be shared by ecological, weakly social (integration) and strongly social (norm compliance) functions.
This is supported by evidence from both human and non-human animals showing that similarity in both instrumental and social behaviours promotes affiliation. In addition, priming human participants with cues of ostracism leads to increased social learning, suggesting that this is a strategy used by humans to integrate socially. We will also discuss potential biological mechanisms by which this might operate, with evidence that hormonal changes may increase the tendency to conform. Finally, we will suggest new avenues for future research into conformist social learning, with a particular focus on behaviour during dispersal in wild primates.
June 10th, 2021No seminar because of the CES Meeting
June 24th, 2021Aysha BellamyBiases or balancing act? Investigating the flexibility of conformity
Conformity has been defined as a bias to copy the majority. This definition may not match research suggesting that social-learning strategies flexibly guide who, what and when to copy. This study therefore investigates the flexibility of the decision to conform across 3 key domains. 316 participants played an economic game with a payoff matrix designed to imitate each domain of: asocial skills, social norms or cooperative norms. Participants saw the following social information: (i) frequency information, or the number in a group who made certain choices; (ii) whether participants learned in a similar or different environment to this group and (iii) the reliability of this similarity information. Similarity information could be reliably correct, uninformative, or reliably incorrect. This reflects cases where signals suggesting a shared decision-making environment does not necessarily depict who upholds similar behaviours to oneself. The participants adjusted their frequency-based strategies to each level of the social information when learning a skill or norm, though were more likely to master a skill or norm when learning from reliably similar others. When learning to cooperate, the participants ignored different others and up-weighed the importance of cooperative norms from similar others. The participants avoided copying a group with reliably incorrect signals of similarity. This may suggest that free-riders have faked similarity to others to elicit cooperation in the ancestral past. This work suggests that conformity is flexible- but not infinitely so. The flexibility of conformity depends on the behaviour being learned. Cooperation may pose a unique learning challenge.
July 8th, 2021Marco SmollaCumulative cultural evolution and the coevolution of learning and social structure in changing environments
Our species’ ecological success is in part based on our capacity to accumulate and refine behaviors and skills over many generations, also referred to as cumulative cultural evolution (CCE). This self-perpetuating process of innovation, selection, and transmission has generated vast amounts of locally adaptive cultural knowledge (i.e. cultural traits). Questions regarding the origin and nature of CCE in our species have sparked a considerable multidisciplinary interest. A major obstacle in CCE research, however, is the inherent complexity, which is the result of various social, cognitive, and eco-evolutionary feedbacks. We developed a model that incorporates several of these complex feedbacks to investigate how CCE is affected by the co-evolution of learning and social structure in variable and heterogeneous environments. We find that populations respond differently to environmental stability and payoff distributions with network structures that support either specialist (favouring skill proficiency, dense networks) or generalist (favouring skill count, sparse networks) skill repertoires. Interestingly, both repertoire types, and thus network structures, can exist under the same environmental regime. We show that biased learning strategies (with attention to novel or existing skills) quickly replace simpler learning in all environments, facilitating the emergence of generalist and specialist repertoires. We also find population size effects on skill proficiency and diversity. In environments with potentially high maximum skill payoffs, larger populations reach higher skill proficiency. However, in unstable environments or those with low maximum skill payoffs, population size had no effect on skill proficiency. Our model advances our understanding of the complex nature of CCE and demonstrates the important interplay of socio-cognitive factors and a dynamically changing world.
July 22nd, 2021Andrea GradassiThe impact of own and others’ confidence on social information use
Humans rely on advice from others to make decisions in a wide set of mundane situations – purchasing new items, picking a movie on Netflix, considering political candidates for an election. People typically do not blindly follow others, but instead weigh social information against their own knowledge and beliefs, and are able to adaptively incorporate information about expertise, accuracy and prestige of their sources. When these explicit cues are not available, humans have to rely on indirect cues, such as confidence, to evaluate the reliability of social information. Although both confidence of the self and of others have been shown to impact social learning, their effects have only been studied in isolation. As a consequence, their relative impact on the transmission of social information remains unclear. We report results from two incentivised decision making tasks experimentally manipulating the confidence of peers to measure how it affects social information use and the heuristics of copying social information vs. keeping to one’s beliefs. We observe that both own confidence and confidence of others determine the amount of information integrated, and the frequency of heuristic strategies used by participants. Crucially, the effect of confidence of others on social transmission was twice as strong as the effect of confidence of self. These results suggest that humans are particularly attuned to detect variations in confidence of others, as they may have a reduced ability to infer their performance from their own internal uncertainty.
August 5th, 2021Xinyue PanConformity Pressure and Norm Changes in Dynamic Environments
Humans live in dynamic environments. When environments change, new norms need to be adopted. However, some societies respond to environmental changes faster than others, raising the questions of what factors influence the norm changes in such conditions. With four models in an evolutionary game theoretic framework, my presentation shows that the conformity pressure in a society, or cultural tightness-looseness, plays an important role in whether and how norms change in dynamic environments.
My presentation consists of two parts. In the first part, we conducted three agent-based models and examined the change of cooperative norms under dynamic threats in tight vs. loose cultures. In Study 1, we show that under a constantly increasing threat, a tight society with stronger conformity pressure adopts cooperative norms faster than a loose society. In Study 2, we show that when mass cooperation can slow down the escalation of threat, a tight society will ultimately have a lower threat than a loose society in most cases. In Study 3, we show that even after the threat has gradually decreased, a tight society that has evolved cooperative norms can maintain a highly cooperative norm for a long time.
However, the strong conformity pressure in tight societies is not always beneficial. In the second part, we used a mathematical model and show that if the environment changes in a way that the previously desirable behavior is no longer desirable in the new environment, norm changes happen slower in tight societies. Moreover, the patterns of norm changes are different in tight vs. loose societies. In loose societies, norms tend to change gradually. However, in tight societies, norms tend to change very slowly at the beginning but once enough of the population has changed, a tipping point is reached, and the rest of the population will change rapidly from there.
August 19th, 2021Saeed Shafiei SabetAnthropogenic sound reverberates at the community level; potentially disrupt sustainability of the natural environment
Anthropogenic sound sources generating intense sounds are common in marine and freshwater environments. Commercial Shipping, recreational boating, pile driving, windmills, airguns and seismic surveys all produce sounds with a variety of temporal, structural and spatial patterns. Aquatic animals among taxa (invertebrates, fish and marine mammals) use sound to communicate with conspecifics, navigate migratory ways, avoid potential predators and locate their prey. Moreover, auditory signals and cues are effective since sound travels relatively far, relatively fast in water. Sound travels also much better than light in aquatic habitats. Therefore it is important to explore and understand the potential impacts of sound on aquatic animals. It has been shown that anthropogenic sound may affect aquatic animals, such as fish, not only in different contexts but also individually and at the community level. 
Depending to the proximity of sound source, sound exposure may cause range of acute and chronic impacts including death, physical damage, permanent and/or temporary hearing threshold shifts, physiological and behavioural changes in fish. There is much less general awareness of global sound-related effects on fish at the community level in the environment. Anthropogenic sound may affect predator-prey interactions and subsequently alter food availability and foraging success which have negative consequences on reproductive success and survival rate. Here, firstly, we will classify underwater sound sources in aquatic habitats, frequency ranges and temporal patterns. Secondly, we review some recent publications referring the potential impacts of sound on fish behaviour; more specifically the effects on spatial distribution and foraging behaviour. To understand the impacts of anthropogenic sound on fish more laboratory and field studies are needed.
September 2nd, 2021Yoav RamCultural evolution of cooperation: the role of non-vertical transmission
We use a cultural-evolutionary model to find conditions for the evolution of cooperation under vertical, oblique, and horizontal cultural transmission. These conditions, which have interesting parallels with Hamilton’s rule, are validated with stochastic simulations of structured populations.
Paper: Cohen, D., Lewin-Epstein, O., Feldman, M. W. & Ram, Y. Non-vertical cultural transmission, assortment and the evolution of cooperation. Proc. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 288, 20203162 (2021).

Sign-up as Speaker for the ESLR Seminar Series

As an early career researcher you are most welcome to sign up for one of the free presentation slots above. Please use the following form to do so:

Leave blank if you have no preference.

Sign-up as Attendee for the ESLR Seminar Series

To attend the seminars please sign-up here and you will receive the Zoom link via Email.


Will my talk be recorded?

If you would like us to record your talk (e.g. to share it later on your own website or YouTube), we can certainly record your talk and provide the video file to you after the talk. Let us know whether you would like us to record your talk prior to the meeting or.