Conformist Learning in Cultural Knowledge (CLICK)

“Conformist learning is one particular form of social learning (learning from others) in which the learner converges, consciously or not, to the most common form of behavior in their reference group.“

Conformist behavior is considered a major force generating cultural processes and a suite of evolutionary consequences, particularly —but not exclusively— in human evolution. This interdisciplinary CNRS 80PRIME project between economist, neurobiology and behavioral ecologists will undertake a comparative study of conformist learning in humans and non-human species with the ultimate goal of better understanding the deep nature of human conformist behavior. The aim is to 1) categorize types of social learning, and of conformist learning among other types of social learning; 2) to explore the molecular, cellular, physiological and psychological mechanisms involved; and thereby 3) to unravel whether human conformist learning has been built on mechanisms that already perform a similar function in other species, or whether on wholly new mechanisms that are specific to humans.

Questions that we want to address are for example: When and why does it pay to be conformist? In which domains of behavior do we see conformist learning in various species? Can we distinguish conformist learning from simple herding? How flexible is conformist learning? Is it more than just a simple rule of thumb? Are there settings in which non-humans are more successful than humans at detecting the majority trait? Which are the appropriate human learning tasks for detecting similarities with non-human animals?

Beside performing online studies on humans to evaluate their conformist behavior we will use fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as model organism to study conformity. We already know from a previous study that females show a surprisingly strong conformist bias in mate choice and copy the choice for the male phenotype they saw copulating most often. As the genetics and neuroanatomy of Drosophila are already well studied, we aim at investigating the neuronal circuits required in mate-copying and to solve complex learning with contradictory cues. This will provide first insight into the neuronal pathways involved in conformity and how evolutionarily conserved the behavior is.

     Paul Seabright, TSE/IAST

Paul Seabright is Professor of Economics (classe exceptionnelle) at the University of Toulouse 1 Capitole (UT1C), a member of the Toulouse School of Economics (TSE) and (since 2012) Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST).


     Etienne Danchin, EDB

Etienne Danchin is an Emiritus Directeur de Recherche (DRCE) CNRS of behavioral ecology at the University of Toulouse III Paul Sabatier (UPS), former Director of the the Laboratoire Evolution et Diversité Biologique (EDB) and former Co-director of the Labex TULIP.


     Guillaume Isabel, CRCA

Guillaume Isabel is a Maitre de Conference in neurobiology at the Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animal (CRCA) at the University of Toulouse III Paul Sabatier.


     Sabine Nöbel, IAST/EDB

Sabine Nöbel is a research fellow with a PhD in behavioral ecology at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST) and affiliated with the Laboratoire Evolution et Diversité Biologique (EDB) at the University of Toulouse III Paul Sabatier (UPS).


     Ricardo Santiago, EDB

Ricardo Santiago is a PhD student located at the Laboratoire Evolution et Diversité Biologique (EDB) at the University of Toulouse III Paul Sabatier (UPS).