A historical perspective on recent studies of social learning about foods by Norway rats.
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Early naturalists explained field observations of social influences on animal learning in terms of spoken language, deliberate tuition of one animal by another, or intentional imitation. During the first half of the present century, experimental psychologists analyzed instances of social learning by animals in laboratory tasks as special cases of operant or classical conditioning. Neither of these traditional approaches provided much insight into the complex processes that often support animal social learning. By combining ethological focus on social learning as it occurs in natural habitat with analytical techniques developed in the psychological laboratory, contemporary researchers have made considerable progress in describing the many ways in which social interactions influence behavioural development in animals. The author's investigations of social influences on food selection by Norway rats provide one example of such an ethopsychological approach to the study of animal social learning.
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