Across species, fears often spread between individuals through social learning. Yet, little is known about the neural and computational mechanisms underlying social learning. Addressing this question, we compared social and direct (Pavlovian) fear learning showing that they showed indistinguishable behavioral effects, and involved the same cross-modal (self/other) aversive learning network, centered on the amygdala, the anterior insula (AI), and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Crucially, the information flow within this network differed between social and direct fear learning. Dynamic causal modeling combined with reinforcement learning modeling revealed that the amygdala and AI provided input to this network during direct and social learning, respectively. Furthermore, the AI gated learning signals based on surprise (associability), which were conveyed to the ACC, in both learning modalities. Our findings provide insights into the mechanisms underlying social fear learning, with implications for understanding common psychological dysfunctions, such as phobias and other anxiety disorders.