Reasoning about social sources to learn from actions and outcomes.

Learning what others know, especially experts, is a crucial shortcut to understanding the world. Other people’s actions and utterances are thus a powerful source of evidence. However, people do not simply copy others’ choices or stated beliefs; rather, they infer what others believe and integrate these beliefs with their own. In this paper, we present a computational account of the inference and integration process that underpins learning from a combination of social and direct evidence. This account formalizes the learner’s intuitive understanding of psychology—or theory of mind (ToM)—including attributes such as confidence, reliability, and knowledgeability. It then shows how ToM is the lens used to interpret another person’s choices, weighing them against the learner’s own direct evidence. To test this account, we develop an experimental paradigm that allows for graded manipulation of social and direct evidence, and for quantitative measurement of the learner’s resulting beliefs. Four experiments test the predictions of the model, manipulating knowledgeability, confidence, and reliability of the social source. Learners’ behavior is consistent with our quantitative and qualitative model predictions across all 4 experiments, demonstrating subtle interactions between evidence and the attributes of those learned from. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)