Social Learning Strategies Tournament

€10,000 prize

Suppose you find yourself in an unfamiliar environment where you don't know how to get food, avoid predators, or travel from A to B. Would you invest time working out what to do on your own, or observe other individuals and copy them? If you copy, who would you copy? The first individual you see? The most common behaviour? Do you always copy, or do so selectively?

What would you do?


These questions lie at the centre of a scientific challenge with important implications for the evolution of learning and culture: What is the best way to learn in a complex, changing world? We are looking for the best answer to this question by organizing an international tournament, open to everyone. Entries consist of a set of rules specifying how and when to learn. All of the entered rules are being pitted against each other in a computer simulation and the winner will be awarded a 10,000 euro prize.

THE TOURNAMENT IS NOW COMPLETE AND WE HAVE A WINNER! Click here for detailed information on the results of the tournament. We also have a Facebook page with FAQs and other details.

"This tournament is a wonderful opportunity to advance our understanding of the evolution of social learning, and I was glad to have been able to give advice about the rules. It has my wholehearted support and I hope that as many people as possible will have a go."

Robert Axelrod, University of Michigan

Background

'Social learning' - learning from others - is observed in many species, and is particularly important for humans, as it is underlies our capacity for tradition and culture. Social learning can be a good way for individuals to get information about their environment. However, blindly copying is very unlikely to be useful because information may be wrong, and can become outdated. Therefore, we expect individuals to use social learning on a selective basis by employing 'social learning strategies' - rules about when and whom to copy. But which strategies perform best? Which win out in an evolutionary struggle?

We are organising a computer-based tournament that we hope will generate some interesting answers, as well as stimulate research in this area. We invite individuals or groups to submit strategies which will then be pitted against each other in a series of evolutionary computer simulations. We aim to solicit submissions from a wide range of disciplines, including economics, psychology and behavioural ecology, as well as from people outside academia.

The tournament is being overseen by a committee of distinguished scientists with much pertinent experience:

The committee has been extensively involved in designing the tournament, and we are also very grateful to Robert Axelrod of the University of Michigan for providing important advice and support with regard to the tournament design.

The tournament is now closed for entries. Click here for detailed information on the tournament along with updates on its progress.

If you have any questions please email the tournament organiser, Luke Rendell.