Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Social


The use of information provided by others to tackle life’s challenges is widespread, but should not be employed indiscriminately if it is to be adaptive. Evidence is accumulating that animals are indeed selective and adopt ‘social learning strategies’. However, studies have generally focused on fish, bird and primate species. Here we extend research on social learning strategies to a taxonomic group that has been neglected until now: otters (subfamily Lutrinae). We collected social association data on captive groups of two gregarious species: smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata), known to hunt fish cooperatively in the wild, and Asian short-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus), which feed individually on prey requiring extractive foraging behaviours. We then presented otter groups with a series of novel foraging tasks, and inferred social transmission of task solutions with network-based diffusion analysis. We show that smooth-coated otters can socially learn how to exploit novel food sources and may adopt a ‘copy when young’ strategy. We found no evidence for social learning in the Asian short-clawed otters. Otters are thus a promising model system for comparative research into social learning strategies, while conservation reintroduction programmes may benefit from facilitating the social transmission of survival skills in these vulnerable species.

Concepts: Otters, Mustelidae, Mammals of Asia, Otter, Social, Aonyx, Smooth-coated Otter, Lutrogale


Exposure to news, opinion and civic information increasingly occurs through social media. How do these online networks influence exposure to perspectives that cut across ideological lines? Using de-identified data, we examined how 10.1 million U.S. Facebook users interact with socially shared news. We directly measured ideological homophily in friend networks, and examine the extent to which heterogeneous friends could potentially expose individuals to cross-cutting content. We then quantified the extent to which individuals encounter comparatively more or less diverse content while interacting via Facebook’s algorithmically ranked News Feed, and further studied users' choices to click through to ideologically discordant content. Compared to algorithmic ranking, individuals' choices about what to consume had a stronger effect limiting exposure to cross-cutting content.

Concepts: Algorithm, Sociology, Science, Ranking, Marxism, Social, Facebook, Ideology


Data from social media provide unprecedented opportunities to investigate the processes that govern the dynamics of collective social phenomena. We consider an information theoretical approach to define and measure the temporal and structural signatures typical of collective social events as they arise and gain prominence. We use the symbolic transfer entropy analysis of microblogging time series to extract directed networks of influence among geolocalized subunits in social systems. This methodology captures the emergence of system-level dynamics close to the onset of socially relevant collective phenomena. The framework is validated against a detailed empirical analysis of five case studies. In particular, we identify a change in the characteristic time scale of the information transfer that flags the onset of information-driven collective phenomena. Furthermore, our approach identifies an order-disorder transition in the directed network of influence between social subunits. In the absence of clear exogenous driving, social collective phenomena can be represented as endogenously driven structural transitions of the information transfer network. This study provides results that can help define models and predictive algorithms for the analysis of societal events based on open source data.

Concepts: Scientific method, Physics, Greek loanwords, Science, Empiricism, Hypothesis, Theory, Social


Two studies document the existence and correlates of a widespread social belief, wherein individuals who have recently moved to a new social environment see their peers as more socially connected than they themselves are. In Study 1, the prevalence of this belief was documented in a large sample of first-year students ( N = 1,099). In Study 2, the prevalence of this social belief was replicated in a targeted sample of university students ( N = 389). Study 2 also documented both positive and negative implications of this belief. Specifically, at any given time, students who believed that their peers were more socially connected reported lower well-being and belonging. Over time, however, the belief that one’s peers are moderately more socially connected than oneself was associated with more friendship formation.

Concepts: Sociology, Real number, Cultural studies, Student, Document, Social


We form first impressions of many traits based on very short interactions. This study examines whether typical adults judge children with high-functioning autism to be more socially awkward than their typically developing peers based on very brief exposure to still images, audio-visual, video-only, or audio-only information. We used video and audio recordings of children with and without high-functioning autism captured during a story-retelling task. Typically developing adults were presented with 1 s and 3 s clips of these children, as well as still images, and asked to judge whether the person in the clip was socially awkward. Our findings show that participants who are naïve to diagnostic differences between the children in the clips judged children with high-functioning autism to be socially awkward at a significantly higher rate than their typically developing peers. These results remain consistent for exposures as short as 1 s to visual and/or auditory information, as well as for still images. These data suggest that typical adults use subtle nonverbal and non-linguistic cues produced by children with high-functioning autism to form rapid judgments of social awkwardness with the potential for significant repercussions in social interactions.

Concepts: Sociology, Autism, Asperger syndrome, Judge, Judgment, Video clip, Social, Clip


Individuals who are well integrated into society have greater access to resources and tend to live longer. Why some individuals are socially isolated and others are not is therefore puzzling from an evolutionary perspective. Answering this question requires establishing the mix of intrinsic and contextual factors that contribute to social isolation. Using social network data spanning up to half of the median adult lifespan in a gregarious primate, we found that some measures of social isolation were modestly repeatable within individuals, consistent with a trait. By contrast, social isolation was not explained by the identity of an animal’s mother or the group into which it was born. Nevertheless, age, sex and social status each played a role, as did kin dynamics and familiarity. Females with fewer close relatives were more isolated, and the more time males spent in a new group the less isolated they became, independent of their social status. These results show that social isolation results from a combination of intrinsic and environmental factors. From an evolutionary perspective, these findings suggest that social isolation could be adaptive in some contexts and partly maintained by selection.

Concepts: Male, Female, Environment, Sociology, Sex, Anthropology, Social psychology, Social


The computational demands of sociality (maintaining group cohesion, reducing conflict) and ecological problems (extractive foraging, memorizing resource locations) are the main drivers proposed to explain the evolution cognition. Different predictions follow, about whether animals would preferentially learn new tasks socially or not, but the prevalent view today is that intelligent species should excel at social learning. However, the predictions were originally used to explain primate cognition, and studies of species with relatively smaller brains are rare. By contrast, domestication has often led to a decrease in brain size, which could affect cognition. In domestic animals, the relaxed selection pressures compared to a wild environment could have led to reduced social and physical cognition. Goats possess several features commonly associated with advanced cognition, such as successful colonization of new environments and complex fission-fusion societies. Here, we assessed goat social and physical cognition as well as long-term memory of a complex two-step foraging task (food box cognitive challenge), in order to investigate some of the main selection pressures thought to affect the evolution of ungulate cognition.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognition, Memory, Cognitive science, Mind, Society, Social


As humans age, they become more selective regarding their personal goals [1] and social partners [2]. Whereas the selectivity in goals has been attributed to losses in resources (e.g., physical strength) [3], the increasing focus on emotionally meaningful partners is, according to socioemotional selectivity theory, driven by the awareness of one’s decreasing future lifetime [2]. Similar to humans, aging monkeys show physical losses [4] and reductions in social activity [2, 5-7]. To disentangle a general resource loss and the awareness of decreasing time, we combined field experiments with behavioral observations in a large age-heterogeneous population of Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) at La Forêt des Singes. Novel object tests revealed a loss of interest in the nonsocial environment in early adulthood, which was modulated by the availability of a food reward. Experiments using vocal and visual representations of social partners indicated that monkeys maintained an interest in social stimuli and a preferential interest in friends and socially important individuals into old age. Old females engaged in fewer social interactions, although other group members continued to invest in relationships with them. Consequently, reductions in sociality were not due to a decrease in social interest. In conclusion, some of the motivational shifts observed in aging humans, particularly the increasing focus on social over nonsocial stimuli, may occur in the absence of a limited time perspective and are most likely deeply rooted in primate evolution. Our findings highlight the value of nonhuman primates as valuable models for understanding human aging [8, 9].

Concepts: Sociology, Gerontology, Old age, Primate, Ageing, Aging, Social, Barbary Macaque


Although decades of research show that people tend to see themselves in the best possible light, we present evidence that people have a surprisingly grim outlook on their social lives. In 11 studies (N = 3,293; including 3 preregistered), we find that most people think that others lead richer and more active social lives than they do themselves. We show that this bias holds across multiple populations (college students, MTurk respondents, shoppers at a local mall, and participants from a large, income-stratified online panel), correlates strongly with well-being, and is particularly acute for social activities (e.g., the number of parties one attends or proximity to the “inner circle” of one’s social sphere). We argue that this pessimistic bias stems from the fact that trendsetters and socialites come most easily to mind as a standard of comparison and show that reducing the availability of extremely social people eliminates this bias. We conclude by discussing implications for research on social comparison and self-enhancement. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Critical thinking, Social


Honesty plays a crucial role in any situation where organisms exchange information or resources. Dishonesty can thus be expected to have damaging effects on social coherence if agents cannot trust the information or goods they receive. However, a distinction is often drawn between prosocial lies (‘white’ lies) and antisocial lying (i.e. deception for personal gain), with the former being considered much less destructive than the latter. We use an agent-based model to show that antisocial lying causes social networks to become increasingly fragmented. Antisocial dishonesty thus places strong constraints on the size and cohesion of social communities, providing a major hurdle that organisms have to overcome (e.g. by evolving counter-deception strategies) in order to evolve large, socially cohesive communities. In contrast, white lies can prove to be beneficial in smoothing the flow of interactions and facilitating a larger, more integrated network. Our results demonstrate that these group-level effects can arise as emergent properties of interactions at the dyadic level. The balance between prosocial and antisocial lies may set constraints on the structure of social networks, and hence the shape of society as a whole.

Concepts: Coherence, Sociology, Emergence, Cohesion, Society, Lie, Social