David J. White's Laboratory at Laurier:
Social Learning, Social Development, and Social Evolution

Social creatures require skills for maintaining the balance between cooperation and conflict with group-mates, navigating dominance hierarchies, and reading and responding appropriately to others’ intentions, yet many facets of the development and function of these skills have gone unstudied.

My students and I have been working to build a new model of social development and social evolution; focusing on how the social environment can organize and control cognition, learning, and reproductive output. We have taken an ecological approach, integrating across levels of analysis to examine how groups affect individuals and in turn how individuals influence groups. 


Our research program investigates:

    • the development of traits associated with effective social behaviour
    • how social learning can modify heritable predispositions
    • the function of social traits
    • the emergence and transmission of culturally-established behaviour patterns. 


The work has revealed that social interactions produce patterns of organization that cannot be understood as properties of single individuals but are nevertheless critical for the development of adaptive behaviour. For example, we have shown that social environments modify: mating preferences, mating skills, the structure of communicative signals, reproductive stimulation, and even the health of offspring. 


Keywords: Animal behaviour, social development, social learning, social neuroscience, communication, cultural transmission, mate choice, sexual selection, behavioural ecology, evolution

Information for Prospective students                                                                            


Research in the lab has been supported over the past two decades by the National Science Foundation (US), the National Institute of Health (US), NSERC (CAN) and Wilfrid Laurier University 

                                                                                                             Current Lab Members