Intelligent Social Learning

CPM Report No.: 00-59
By: Rosario Conte
Date: 2nd May 2000

A Paper at: The "Starting from Society" symposium at ASIB'2000 convention, Birmingham University, 16th-19th April 2000.

Also published as: Rosario Conte (2000), "Intelligent Social Learning", in the Proceedings of the AISB'00 Symposium on Starting from Society - the Application of Social Analogies to Computational Systems, Birmingham, UK: AISB, 1-13. (ISBN 1 902956 13 8)


One of the cognitive processes responsible for social propagation is social learning, broadly meant as the process by means of which agents' acquisition of new information is caused or favoured by their being exposed to one another in a common environment. Social learning results from one or other of a number of social phenomena, the most important of which are social facilitation and imitation. In this paper, a general notion of social learning will be defined and the main processes which are responsible for it, namely social facilitation and imitation, will be analysed in terms of the social mental processes they require. A brief analysis of classical definitions of social learning is carried on, showing that a systematic and consistent treatment of this notion is still missing. A general notion of social learning is then introduced and the two main processes which may lead to it, social facilitation and imitation, will be defined as different steps on a continuum of cognitive complexity. Finally, the utility of the present approach is discussed. The analysis presented in this paper draws upon a cognitive model of social action (cf. Conte & Castelfranchi, 1995; Conte, 1999). The agent model which will be referred to throughout the paper is a cognitive model, endowed with mental properties for pursuing goals and intentions, and for knowledge-based action. To be noted, a cognitive agent is not to be necessarily meant as a natural system, although many examples examined in the paper are drawn from the real social life of humans. Cognitive agents may also be artificial systems endowed with the capacity for reasoning, planning, and decision-making about both world and mental states. The interesting question concerning artificial systems is, what are the mechanisms which must be implemented at the agent level to enable them to learn from one another? Are the mechanisms allowing agents to learn from their physical environment sufficient for them to learn also from or perhaps through their social environment? If not, which additional properties are needed? And, earlier than this, what does social learning mean, which social phenomena are referred to by this notion?

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