The Second Social Learning Strategies Tournament

Final results are in!

The tournament is complete (as of 4 April 2014) and the results can be viewed here.

Congratulations to our winners, farsightpolymorph!

We would like to thank everyone who entered.

Results from the first stage can be viewed here.

Results from the second stage can be viewed here.


€25,000 prize money

Suppose you find yourself in an unfamiliar environment where you don’t know how to get food, avoid predators, or travel from A to B. Would you invest time working out what to do on your own, or observe other individuals and copy them? If you copy, who would you copy? The first individual you see? The most succesful individual? The most common behaviour? Do you always copy, or do so selectively? If you could refine behaviours, would you invest time in that or let others do it for you? What if you then migrated – would you rely on your existing knowledge, or copy the locals?

What would you do?

These questions lie at the centre of a scientific challenge with important implications for the evolution of learning and culture: What is the best way to learn in a complex, changing world? We began looking for the best answer to this question by organising an international tournament, open to everyone. Entries consisted of a set of rules specifying how and when to learn. All of the entered rules were pitted against each other in a computer simulation. More details of this tournament can be found here. We published an analysis of the results in a paper in Science.

We have now received funding to run a second social learning strategies tournament. This competition builds on the first Social Learning Strategies Tournament by allowing for cumulative culture, spatial variation, and model-based learning biases:

Agents that choose to learn from others will be given information about who is available to learn from and a choice of who they want to learn from

  • Agents that choose to learn from others will be given information about who is available to learn from and a choice of who they want to learn from.
  • Agents will be able to invest time in cumulatively improving a behaviour they already know (a move we call REFINE)
  • We introduce spatial variation in the environment by simulating a meta-population comprising three demes.

There is a total of €25,000 prize money available to be won in this competition!

The closing date for entries was 28th February 2012 (1700GMT), and we are currently analysing the entries.

  • Download a copy of the details of how to enter, along with the tournament rules, here.
  • We recommend you use this entry form to prepare your submission.
  • Python coders might like to use this strategy template.
  • Completed entries should be emailed as attachements to Dr Luke Rendell.
  • As people are asking us questions about the tournament rules we are adding them to our list of FAQs.
  • We also have a Facebook page where you can follow progress.


‘Social learning’ – learning from others – is observed in many species, and is particularly important for humans, as it is underlies our capacity for tradition and culture. Social learning can be a good way for individuals to get information about their environment. However, blindly copying is very unlikely to be useful because information may be wrong, and can become outdated. Therefore, we expect individuals to use social learning on a selective basis by employing ‘social learning strategies’ – rules about when and whom to copy. But which strategies perform best? Which win out in an evolutionary struggle?

We are organising this tournament to try and generate some interesting answers, as well as stimulate research in this area. We invite individuals or groups to submit strategies which we then pitted against each other in a series of evolutionary computer simulations. We received submissions from a wide range of disciplines, including economics, psychology and behavioural ecology, as well as from people outside academia.

The tournament is being overseen by a committee of distinguished scientists with much pertinent experience, and who were also extensively involved in the tournament design :

If you have any questions please email the tournament organiser, Luke Rendell.