Social learning in animals: sex differences and neurobiological analysis

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1999 Dec;64(4):767-76. doi: 10.1016/s0091-3057(99)00141-0.


Social learning where an "individual's behavior is influenced by observation of, or interaction with, another animal or its products" has been extensively documented in a broad variety of species, including humans. Social learning occurs within the complex framework of an animal's social interactions that are markedly affected by factors such as dominance hierarchies, family bonds, age, and sex of the interacting individuals. Moreover, it is clear that social learning is influenced not only by important sexually dimorphic social constraints but also that it involves attention, motivational, and perceptual mechanisms, all of which exhibit substantial male-female differences. Although sex differences have been demonstrated in a wide range of cognitive and behavioral processes, investigations of male-female differences in social learning and its neurobiological substrates have been largely neglected. As such, sex differences in social learning and its neurobiological substrates merit increased attention. This review briefly considers various aspects of the study of social learning in mammals, and indicates where male-female differences have either been described, neglected and, or could have a potential impact. It also describes the results of neurobiological investigations of social learning and considers the relevance of these findings to other sexually dimorphic cognitive processes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Food Preferences
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Social Behavior*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists