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Recent research has shown that children often learn what to believe by attending to the claims of other people. Similarly, they often learn how to act by attending to the actions of other people. Moreover, in each of these two domains, children are selective in their learning – they prefer to endorse and to emulate individuals who, as representatives of the surrounding culture, can serve as good models. I argue that this type of selective social learning also plays a major role in children’s emotional development. Although young children may encounter some situations that have a universal biological significance – for example a steep cliff or a sudden loud noise – the emotional implications of many encounters, especially with artefacts, people and foods, are likely to vary from one culture to another. Children can learn to perceive these encounters through the distinctive emotional lens of their own culture if they attend to and adopt the expressive appraisals of individuals who are representative of their culture. Such appraisals may be conveyed non-verbally, as in the classic social-referencing paradigm, but they can also be conveyed verbally.
In this chapter, we apply the affective social learning (ASL) concept to the social learning of natural skill sets in immature orang-utans since it can serve as an illustration of the majority of learning that occurs in wild apes. Most orang-utan social learning happens during everyday tasks and without any active involvement of the role model. Consequently, detecting the emotional state(s) of the role model is nearly impossible. We focus therefore on the emotional responses of the immature learners to the role models’ behaviours. Our data on peering (attentive, sustained close-range watching of conspecifics), which is often followed by selective practice of the observed behaviour by the peerer, suggests that there is some highly specific emotional arousal of the immatures during social learning. The role models’ actions with the object seem to play a central role in the learning process. However, immatures appear to decide on their own whether to attend to the information or not, as in affective observation, the second stage of ASL. Developmental changes in role-model preferences support the notion that trust in the role model is critical for ASL to work. Given that we can use the learners’ responses as proof of the affective states of the role models, ASL may be an important part of the mechanism that guides and optimizes the acquisition of learned skills in wild great apes. However, the lower we set the bar for the affective states (or emotions) of the role models for ASL to work, the more difficult it is to verify their presence and the more ASL will overlap with ordinary social learning.
Interpersonally presented emotions help to calibrate people’s orientations to things happening in the shared environment. For example, social referencing involves one person seeking clarification of the appropriate appraisal of an object, event, or person, and another person responding with an emotional orientation that disambiguates things. However, this paradigmatic case represents only one of the possible ways in which emotions affect other people’s physical or mental attitudes. In other cases, emotion-related responses affect other people’s orientations independent of their explicit informational content. Further, emotional knowledge may be co-constructed dynamically rather than transmitted unidirectionally from one person to another. In these cases, affective social learning need not involve changes in the perceived meaning of emotional objects, but rather adjustments in interactants’ orientations to what is happening. This chapter suggests ways of extending and going beyond existing methodological and theoretical approaches to emotional influence and identifies some of the blindspots of previous research.
Affective social learning is a novel concept that aims to conceptualize the transmission of social value. Within the pages of this volume, this simple idea and our presentation of it has already inspired researchers from different disciplines to address what this might mean for their research and for affective science more generally. In this concluding chapter, we restate the motivation for coming up with the concept in the first place, with its origins in psychological and philosophical emotion theory most obviously, but also in anthropology, comparative psychology and sociology. We also insist on the novelty of the concept, undoubtedly due, at least in part, to its multidisciplinary origins. While avoiding the temptation to explicitly answer the points raised by the chapter authors one by one, we address the main points implicitly by either modifying or reformulating aspects of affective social learning before highlighting the points that we think most urgently need to be focused on in future research. While we will of course be continuing our research in this area, we hope that this chapter and indeed this volume more generally will continue to inspire others to join us in this project. In other words, and to paraphrase the title of this volume, we hope to have transmitted the value of affective social learning, socially speaking.
Affective social learning is a relatively new concept that needed teasing out. In this introductory chapter, we set out what we meant by the notion as we initially set it out in previous versions. The goal here is to provide the reader with the background to the concept and indeed to the following chapters and, ultimately, to use as a starting point when measuring how the concept evolves over the length of the book. We begin then, by explaining how difficult it can be, conceptually, to marry three important areas of (psychological) research – emotion (affect), the ‘social’ and learning, before setting out the conditions and describing the major components involved in affective social learning. We end by briefly introducing the following chapters.
In this chapter we discuss the ways in which expressions of regret provide “lessons” for observers of those expressions, thereby constituting a case of affective social learning. We review three lines of research to argue that another person’s regret tells us something about the aversive consequences of a decision made by that person and influences our own behaviour when we have to make a similar decision. In the first line of research we found that participants who had seen another person acting unfairly but then expressing regret – as opposed to pride – were more likely to anticipate regret if they were to act the same way, and this anticipated emotion affected the likelihood of participants themselves acting fairly. This “lesson” learned by witnessing another person’s regret can also be extended to relations between groups. In the second line of research, observers appeared to “learn” from an out-group’s expression of regret that members of the out-group were unhappy about the decision they took, which encourages the observers to see the out-group as more trustworthy. In the third line of research, we show that similar effects are found when an in-group member expresses regret about the in-group’s failure to reciprocate the trust shown by an out-group. Thus, expressing regret serves the function of communicating the inappropriateness of the in-group’s decision and thereby encourages trusting behaviour in other in-group members. Our contention is that the effects of emotional expression in the experiments described here are due to shifts in the perceived appropriateness of certain behaviours, shifts that result from a process of affective social learning.
Written by experts in comparative, developmental, social, cognitive and cultural psychology, this book introduces the novel concept of affective social learning to help explain why what matters to us, matters to us. In the same way that social learning describes how we observe other people's behaviour to learn how to use a particular object, affective social learning describes how we observe other people's emotions to learn how to value a particular object, person or event. As such, affective social learning conceptualises the transmission of value from a given culture to a given person and reveals why the things that are so important to us can be of no consequence at all to others.
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