Specialization and selective social attention establishes the balance between individual and social learning


A key question individuals face in any social learning environment is when to innovate alone and when to imitate others. Previous simulation results have found that the best performing groups exhibit an intermediate balance, yet it is still largely unknown how individuals collectively negotiate this balance. We use an immersive collective foraging experiment, implemented in the Minecraft game engine, facilitating unprecedented access to spatial trajectories and visual field data. The virtual environment imposes a limited field of view, creating a natural trade-off between allocating visual attention towards individual innovation or to look towards peers for social imitation. By analyzing foraging patterns, social interactions (visual and spatial), and social influence, we shine new light on how groups collectively adapt to the fluctuating demands of the environment through specialization and selective imitation, rather than homogeneity and indiscriminate copying of others.