Social learning has allowed humans to build up extensive cultural repertoires, enabling them to adapt to a wide variety of environmental and social conditions. However, it is unclear which social learning strategies people use, especially in social contexts where their payoffs depend
on the behaviour of others. Here we show experimentally that individuals differ in their social learning strategies and that they tend to employ the same learning strategy irrespective of the interaction context. Payoff-based learners focus on their peers’ success, while decision-based
learners disregard payoffs and exclusively focus on their peers’ past behaviour. These individual differences may be of considerable importance for cultural evolution. By means of a simple model, we demonstrate that groups harbouring individuals with different learning strategies may be faster in adopting technological innovations and can be more efficient through successful role differentiation. Our study highlights the importance of individual variation for human interactions and sheds new light on the dynamics of cultural evolution.