The social transmission of fear and safety: From social to neural networks
In rapidly changing environments, humans and other animals often glean information about the value of objects and behaviors through social learning. In humans, for example, observing others’ behaviors and their consequences, enables the transmission of a wide range of value-based information, from what stimuli should be avoided or approached to the appropriateness of specific social behaviors. In contrast to learning from direct, personal, experiences, little is known about the mechanisms underlying these forms of social learning.
Here, I will discuss studies using behavioral, imaging, and pharmacological techniques examining both the sender and receiver during various forms of social learning. The focus will be on threat and safety learning. Consistent with research across species, our results show that these forms of social learning draw on processes partially shared with direct conditioning and extinction learning. Importantly, however, the outcome of social learning is distinguished by its dependence on social information and interaction.
The study of the mechanisms underlying social learning is fundamental to our understanding of the spread of both adaptive and non-adaptive emotional information between individuals, as well as in networks and societies.