Individual differences in learning social and nonsocial network structures

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2019 Feb;45(2):253-271. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000580. Epub 2018 Jul 19.


How do people acquire knowledge about which individuals belong to different cliques or communities? And to what extent does this learning process differ from the process of learning higher-order information about complex associations between nonsocial bits of information? Here, the authors use a paradigm in which the order of stimulus presentation forms temporal associations between the stimuli, collectively constituting a complex network. They examined individual differences in the ability to learn community structure of networks composed of social versus nonsocial stimuli. Although participants were able to learn community structure of both social and nonsocial networks, their performance in social network learning was uncorrelated with their performance in nonsocial network learning. In addition, social traits, including social orientation and perspective-taking, uniquely predicted the learning of social community structure but not the learning of nonsocial community structure. Taken together, the results suggest that the process of learning higher-order community structure in social networks is partially distinct from the process of learning higher-order community structure in nonsocial networks. The study design provides a promising approach to identify neurophysiological drivers of social network versus nonsocial network learning, extending knowledge about the impact of individual differences on these learning processes. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Nonverbal Communication*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Social Behavior*