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Keynote Abstracts

Teaching ritual secrets among highlander and coastal tribes of PNG
Henry Dosedla
Previous to missionary influence the basic patterns of religious concepts in all parts of Papua New Guinea were various spirit cults which required distinct ways of observance. To pass on the proper knowledge to young tribe members was the main goal of initiation which often consisted in several degrees.
In the case of Temboka tribes in the Western Highlands Province of PNG there were several main spirits whose followers were divided into particular cult sections each sharing its own secrets. The last spirit cult festival held there in 1971 could be documented just before such “pagan activities” became abolished by missionary authorities. Since initiaton there became obsolete likewise there is no formal teaching of spiritual traditions any more but many of their features are still passed on in informal ways.
And in exceptional cases are still practiced in the Maprik and Sepik regions of northern coastal PNG including painful scarification or other nearly unbearable operations of their followers.
Learning to see: mechanisms and applications of visual learning

Sebastian Frank

Although it has been assumed that our visual abilities are highly stable across the life span, research in the field of visual perceptual learning (VPL) has shown that repeated practice of a visual task leads to dramatic improvements in the trained visual ability. Research in VPL has largely focused on training-induced improvements in the detection or discrimination of a primitive feature (e.g., an orientation). In my research I have investigated how we can learn to perceive and recognize objects that consist of a conjunction of several different features (e.g., a specific color and a specific orientation and a specific shape). Without a visual learning mechanism that combines these features into a meaningful conjunction our world would consist of a confusing and meaningless “feature soup”. In several experiments I have investigated how human subjects learn to conjoin arbitrary features and which neuronal mechanisms in the brain are involved in this learning. Furthermore, I have investigated how long-lasting this feature conjunction learning is and found that it is stable for years after the end of learning without any need for further practice in between. Finally, I will present some recent results about the application of principles of feature conjunction learning to the improvement of professional training such as the detection of breast cancer in screening mammography.

Why did the same things go on and on in deep time?  The case of the Oldowan and Acheulean in human evolution

John Gowlett

The oldest major traditions of human material culture, the Oldowan and the Acheulean, each lasted for more than a million years.  But when evolutionary biologists in the 1950s began to distinguish psycho-social evolution as new level of evolution distinct from the genetic, it seemed that flexibility and rapidity of change were the chief advantages of cultural transmission.  Why then was change so very slow, and apparent cumulation so little?  The biologist R.A. Hinde encouraged us to think in terms of biology rather than modern human concepts of change.  This paper considers fixed patterns of learning and teaching, low possibilities of innovating, or restrictions of environmental niche were more important in shaping the picture that we see.

What Are the Roles of Adults in Children's Self-Directed Education?

Peter Gray

I will begin by defining Self-Directed Education and explaining how it works in hunter-gatherer cultures, in fully democratic schools today, and in unschooling families.  I will then describe what I have found to be six conditions that optimize children's abilities to educate themselves and the roles of adults in establishing those conditions.  Children educate themselves, but adults provide the environmental context in which that education occurs.  

Extended parenting and the attitude of juveniles are pivotal for cultural learning.

Michael Griesser
Department of Biology, University of Konstanz

Social learning is a critical component of teaching (i.e., individuals facilitate the learning of others and/or provide error correction). Although social learning is well studied, the factors that facilitate social learning in wild animals has attracted less attention, and its fitness consequences are rarely assessed. Here I assess the drivers and fitness consequences of social learning in wild, group-living bird species, the Siberian jay Perisoreus infaustus. Besides the breeding pair, groups can include both related and unrelated non-breeders that can remain up to 4 years in a group before becoming breeders. In a first experiment, I trained adult group members to access food concealed in feeding stations, and observed naïve juveniles learning. Three independent factors supported faster task solving by juveniles: more demonstrators, tolerant demonstrators, and being more explorative. Faster learners had the highest long-term survival, assessed over 5.5 years. In a second experiment, I exposed groups including naïve juveniles to different predator models. Particularly kin juveniles copied the mobbing behaviours of breeders. However, all juveniles that had the opportunity to observe others mobbing the main predator (goshawk), survived their first winter of life, and were more likely to become breeders. These findings demonstrate the adaptive benefit of social, cultural learning. I discuss the role of extended parenting in these processes, and highlight its critical role for any form of cooperative interactions, including social learning and teaching.

Hunter-Gatherer Teaching and Evolution

Barry Hewlett

The talk addresses three questions: what do we know about teaching in hunter-gatherer infancy, childhood and adolescence; how do we explain hunter-gatherer patterns of teaching; and how can the observed patterns and explanations help us speculate about the evolution of teaching? The first part of the talk summarizes from whom and how teaching occurs at various ages in hunter-gatherers. The second section focuses on two general features of hunter-gatherer life that are useful for understanding teaching in these communities: foundational schema/cultural norms and intimate living. The talk concludes by considering how cultural niche construction and self-domestication in human history contributed to the evolution of teaching.

Lives to Learn: The Biology and Culture of Human Learning Abilities and Environments

Olaf Jöris

MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution
Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz, Germany

With the evolution of larger brains and associated changes in brain organization, over the last ~2.5 million years humans developed enhanced cognitive capacities, that are reflected in high levels of individual self-awareness and intentionality („Theory of Mind“). From the perspective of behavioural ecology the human cognitive ‚setup‘ is of great adaptive significance, as it has been fundamental in the development of new modes of social interaction and fissioning as concerns both, the frequency and the quality of inter-individual bonds. Empathy and trust did not only pave the way for the establishment of networks of reciprocating partners, but also for the emergence of cooperative behaviours that were not necessarily limited by the narrow bounds of kinship.

The different modes employed in the transmission of information / knowledge can be seen as the  i n t e r f a c e  between our cognitive ‚setup‘ and the social environments we are embedded in. And our human culture can be seen as the product of our cognitive abilities and our social environments, in which information / knowledge is transmitted and recieved in different (horizontal) ways and between different (vertical) levels (i.e. intergenerational).

Spanning millions of years, the rich Palaeolithic archaeological record sheds light on the interdependences between the evolution of human social environments on the one hand and the modes underlying information / knowledge transferral on the other. It allows to reconstruct, what were the essential ingedients in the different modes of learning and teaching – hoizontally and vertically – that led to the enrichment of information and to the accomplishment of new knowledge that still characterizes our accumulative culture today.

Keywords: Transmission of knowledge; Accumulation of knowledge; Questioning; Skill, competance and specialisation; „Theory of Mind“ (ToM); Language; Ontogenesis; Social environments; Tinbergen’s four Why‘s

Teaching is like sunshine: traditional way of teaching among Tsotsil Maya (Mexico)

Ana Kondic
Visiting Fellow DLCE

Teaching is like sunshine: it contains a spectrum of many different colors, and it enriches life. Teaching is manifested in a range of behaviors that vary depending on the culture and situation, and is considered as a spectrum ranging from local enhancement to storytelling.
I would like to present the traditional Maya teaching style that is now being revitalized by the Tsotsil Maya of San Isidro, Chiapas, Mexico. While spending one year in this community working on documentation of the language and culture it embeds, I had a chance to meet a young teacher who was trying to revive the ancestral style of teaching which was directly related to the community needs and the surrounding nature. Their ‘native’ school is an equivalent of the formal primary school and is still waiting to be officially recognized. All the subjects are taught in Tsotsil Maya by the maestro Xun and his wife, both qualified teachers, who follow a particular curriculum specially tailored for this school by the village Assembly of the Elderly. This curriculum and the teaching style reflect the Maya values and their connection with the nature.
The teaching materials I produced for that school and the community in general with the aim of language maintenance, a collection of narratives and other type of texts, accompanied by audio and video recordings done in the community, are the first and the only teaching materials available in this community.

Learning by Observing and Pitching In to family and community endeavors:  LOPI as a cultural way of organizing learning

Barbara Rogoff

Based on 4 decades of research in a Highland Maya community in Guatemala, and briefer forays in several other Indigenous American communities, Barbara Rogoff will discuss a way of learning that appears to be common in many Indigenous communities of the Americas.  Facilitating children’s learning in this cultural system are:

  • the inclusion of children as contributors in most family and community events,
  • collaborative engagement with initiative on the part of children as well as adults,
  • economical verbal and nonverbal guidance and example within the processes of ongoing shared activity, and
  • guidance from community-wise expectations, counsel, stories, and ribbing

What influences copying in toddlers, preschoolers, non-human primates and dogs? The role of causal information and the intentions of a demonstrator.

Amanda Seed, Emma Tecwyn, Elisa Felsche and Daphna Buschbaum

In studies of action imitation children ‘overimitate’, while chimpanzees are selective and only copy necessary actions when this is transparent (Horner & Whiten, 2005). The reason for this difference is debated: is it driven by differences in causal reasoning or social cognition? In our study chimpanzees, capuchins, dogs, toddlers (18-30 months old) and pre-schoolers (3-5 years old) observed a human demonstrator perform a sequence of two actions on a puzzle-box, which then dispensed a reward. We manipulated how plausibly necessary the first action was across two dimensions: intentionality and causal plausibility Intentionality was manipulated between subjects: each participant saw Unknowing, Intentional or Pedagogical demonstrations. Participants also received two causal plausibility conditions: ‘Same box’, where both actions were performed on the main box; and ‘Separate boxes’, where the first ‘unnecessary’ action was performed on a physically disconnected box. We compared performance to idealised learners using Bayesian models to examine how different species used the social and physical information when deciding what to copy. All groups showed sensitivity to the first action’s causal plausibility, but only human children showed sensitivity to the demonstrator’s intentions, and only preschool-aged children’s performance was best approximated by a model which interpreted the demonstrator as a helpful teacher. We conclude that a receptivity to ostension (in toddlers and dogs)  or intentionality (non-human primates) does not automatically trigger an interpretation of an action as instructional.  This inference, which can lead to particularly faithful copying, may rely on later-developing social cognition.

Searching for Teaching’s DNA in The Extraordinary Complexity of Human Teaching

Sidney Strauss
Ammachilabs, Amrita University, India
Tel Aviv University, Israel

Teaching is one of Nature’s remarkable inventions. Human teaching is responsible, in part, for our cumulative culture and our having a history.
Despite its significance for human existence, it has, until very recently, been flying below the cognitive radar. In contrast, learning, that may be caused by teaching, has captured cognitive scientists’ hearts.

To redress this anomaly, we need a wide-ranging map of teaching. I present a beginning view of what that map could look like.
It is proposed that we should look for teaching’s basic building blocks, its DNA. That is what gives rise to the complexity of human teaching. I will: (1) expose much of the full panoply of human teaching’s complexity, (2) do reverse engineering so as to determine its DNA and (3) show how teaching’s DNA leads to the starting point of this analysis: teaching’s complexity.

Teaching is typically viewed as information transfer. I expand on this in three ways. First, the cognitive part also includes passing on knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes. Second, the expanded view also involves components from the emotional and motivational realms. And third, human teaching is shown to be fundamentally transactional in nature with interpersonal relations of caring, sympathy, empathy and compassion being part and parcel of all acts of human teaching.
In the talk, the large picture will be presented along with examples of how, beginning with teaching’s complexity, one can reverse engineer to reveal teaching’s DNA which, in turn, leads back to its complexity.

The function and mechanisms of teaching: an evolutionary perspective

Alex Thornton
University of Exeter

For almost 200 years, Immanuel Kant’s assertion that “man is the only being who needs education” went unchallenged, largely as a result of definitions which a priori excluded all other species (and indeed many human societies) by cleaving to Western notions of formal education or stipulating specific cognitive requirements. I will argue in favour of a less restrictive, evolutionarily grounded approach which treats teaching as a form of cooperative behaviour whereby knowledgeable individuals help others to learn, without a priori assertions as to the mechanisms by which this is achieved. Under this functional view, there is clear experimental evidence for teaching in several non-human species, and suggestive evidence in a host more. I will discuss how research on both non-human animals and humans can help us to understand how teaching evolved, the diversity of cognitive mechanisms that underpin it and its role in generating cumulative culture.

Born to be taught: "twists" of cultural learning and biological adaptations in human evolution

Antonella Tramacere 

For at least 25 years, two main frameworks accounted for the distinctiveness of the human mind from an evolutionary perspective. One is Evolutionary Psychology, which acquired a modular approach to the mind. Modules are neural specializations, targeted by natural selection during hominin history and evolved for accomplishing specific cognitive functions. The second framework (recently called Cultural Evolutionary Psychology) claims that the number of neural mechanisms that can be defined as cognitive adaptations is low, and that the majority of uniquely human mental traits are learned through socio-cultural interactions during development.

Debates on the origin of teaching (the intentional transmission of knowledge through communication) have followed a similar leitmotiv: some have depicted teaching as the result of an evolutionary adaptation by relying on classical Evolutionary Psychology arguments (Csibra & Gergely, 2011); others relied on its plasticity and context-dependent developmental properties, to define teaching as a product of learning and cultural evolution (Heyes 2016).

I will acquire an integrative perspective, and frame teaching as a cluster of socio-cultural learning mechanisms. I will define some of these mechanisms (e.g., imitation and mindreading) as Cognitive Twists. Cognitive Twists are learned socially and culturally, but have evolved biologically through the selective pressure that socio-cultural learning itself have produced during hominin history. Although evolved through neurobiological tweaks, these mechanisms are not modules, nor psychological adaptations per se. Rather, they emerge at each generation as the result of the developmental potentials which humans have inherited.

I conclude with a list of methodological opportunities and directions opened by the Cognitive Twist approach. 

Neuroscience of video-guided skill learning: Motor imagery is key

Stefan Vogt

Neuroscience of video-guided skill learning: Motor imagery is key
One way of teaching motor actions is visual demonstration. As social animals, teachers and learners are born observers. Here I review some of the neurocognitive mechanisms of learning by observing, with emphasis on processes of motor imagery during action observation.
In a series of neuroimaging studies, we found that motor cortical regions are activated from the outset of learning manual actions, such as guitar chords. The specific fronto-parietal network varied with the task (Sakreida et al. 2018). In addition, prefrontal cortical areas were engaged, indicating the involvement of supervisory control processes. Whilst this neural architecture can bring learner some way towards proficient execution of the observed action, we also documented specific limitations of observational learning compared to physical practice (Higuchi et al., 2012).
Whilst the main narrative in our and others' studies has referred to mirroring processes that map the observed action onto the observer’s own motor repertoire, this process might not be as automatic as often implied. There is now ample evidence that observers can engage in motor imagery during action observation (Vogt et al., 2013) and that this enhances neural processing and motor learning. When pitted against each other, motor imagery, and not action observation, appears to be the main driver of motor facilitatory effects (Meers et al., 2020). Furthermore, according to our recent reanalysis of the available neuroimaging studies on action observation, motor imagery has likely been an unnoticed confound. Accordingly, in both live and video-guided skill learning, teachers would better capitalise on the learner's imagery capabilities.

Submitted Abstracts

Brain growth, language, learning, teaching

Lee Seldon

How does the brain learn? Incoming signals facilitate the development of the circuits which carry them. White matter growth stretches sensory cortical areas, enabling them to make finer distinctions among signals. By the same growth mechanism secondary cortices could make finer distinctions among combinations of primary signals. The motor theory of learning emphasizes how motor actions, including speaking, repetition, note-taking, etc reinforce the brain growth processes. Brain maturation and thus learning time in Homo sapiens lasts 2 decades or more, much longer than in other animals or in Neanderthals.

Languages are learned during the growth phase by observation (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory input signals), repetition, motor actions, etc. All human languages are "object-oriented" - they describe objects (nouns), their attributes (adjectives), actions (verbs) and relationships (prepositions). Many branches of mathematics are languages with entities and relationships and are taught and learned with much repetition. Computer software languages like Java and C++ are also object- oriented, so can be taught like other human languages. Formal lectures provide only visual and auditory “observation” components. To involve others one should approach teaching like "Here is an object - now repeat - now write or type the language code to describe this object, its actions and relationships - now tell a story with this object."

“Learning from home” in the Levantine Middle Paleolithic of Amud Cave

Ravid Ekshtain & Erella Hovers

The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
International affiliate, Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University

Social learning plays an important role in shaping the behaviors of human groups, and is considered a major mechanism of generating cumulative culture. Little is known about the mechanisms of social learning and pedagogy in ancient periods and their role in shaping interactions with the environment. The process of stone knapping requires both (a) training opportunities and transfer of abstract and practical technological knowledge from experienced knappers to novices and (b) landscape familiarity to create cognitive maps. These aspects are poorly known from an archaeological perspective.

We present a raw material study from Amud cave, a Levantine Middle Paleolithic residential site, where local flint was procured mainly as part of mundane exploitation of the local territory. Flint from distant sources (>60km) reached the site more sporadically as personal gear, as finished objects and as potential knapping materials for future on-site use, but its production and use do not differ from the local flint. We suggest that only some of the residential group possessed the spatial knowledge about distant raw material sources and that exotic items were brought to the residential site – the location visited by most group members, for the longest duration - as teaching aids to familiarize members with distant affordances. By obtaining and sharing information about the properties of these resources, knowledgeable individuals provided “remote learning” opportunities to their larger group.

Learning and teaching in the Lower Paleolithic: The role of children in the assimilation and transmission of new technologies

Ella Assaf
Tel Aviv University, Israel

In this paper, I contend that children had a unique position in prehistoric knowledge transmission systems, functioning both as primary assimilators and transmitters of new technologies. Their role was especially crucial at significant turning points in history, due to a number of childhood-cognitive mechanisms that are activated in learning and playing while engaging in innovative activity. Children, being more flexible than adults, are able to accept new practices and technologies faster, as they become ‘early adopters’. Later, they become change agents and the driving force behind the assimilation of these new technologies among their social group. I suggest that these mechanisms developed as part of an evolutionary process that has enabled humans to better adapt to change and prosper. This line of thinking is demonstrated through a synthesis of evolutionary, cognitive-psychological models and a case study from the Levantine late Lower Paleolithic site of Qesem Cave. In this time, humans developed a set of creative innovations which had to be learned and assimilated, such as the innovative production of blades. I argue that these cultural changes were successfully assimilated due to the enhancement of well- established learning mechanisms, in which children played a significant role. This role might have given them a unique status in their group – as preserving old traditions practiced by their ancestors but also as active agents, part of a collective group effort of tackling present and future challenges.

Experts Teachers’ In-Action and On-Action Mental Models of How Pupils Learn: Emotional and Interpersonal Aspects.

Meital Weiss
Tel-Aviv University

The purpose of this study was to describe cognitive, emotional and interpersonal aspects of teachers’ mental models about how pupils learn.
Mental models are psychological entities that people construct about dynamic systems in the world. Traditionally, researchers describe mental models of dynamic interactions between people and artifacts in the environment, such as a water pump. A person acts on a water pump (an external artifact) and constructs a mental model of the artifact’s (dynamic) workings so as to produce a result (water being pumped out of the pump). Cognitive scientists describe others’ mental models.
In the present research, we changed the terms of mental models by describing teachers’ mental models of how they act on learners’ minds (internal) through (dynamic) teaching so as to cause outcomes (learning in those minds).
These mental models were inferred from how teachers talk about their actual teaching during interviews and from observing their actual teaching behaviors in the classrooms.
Past research on teachers’ mental models of how teaching causes students’ learning has focused mainly on cognitive, knowledge- transfer aspects of mental models.
An innovation in the present study was to also describe emotional and interpersonal aspects of teaching, both of which are implicated in learning, but have been neglected in research.
We describe teachers’ mental models of learning that included cognitive, emotional and interpersonal aspects. We also found that emotional and interpersonal goals of teaching cannot be separated from cognitive, learning goals teachers try to achieve in pupils’ minds.

Social learning practices among the Hunter-Gatherer Raute of Nepal

Man Bahadur Shahu, Tribhuvan University

This paper examine the social learning processes including teaching, learning and sharing practices of knowledge among the contemporary hunter-gatherer nomadic Raute of Nepal. Raute have been transmitting and acquiring the knowledge of foraging over the generations under the strict tradition of their culture. This article uncover the social learning process based on space, ecology, age and gender, which informally shared to their children concern with hunting, gathering, trapping and trading.  I have explored information on vertical (parents-to-children), horizontal (peer-to-peer) and oblique (other adults) teaching and learning processes in their everyday life. Raute parents has been performing their teaching under the specific strategies, supervision, and monitoring to nurture their children in the informal space.  The social learning process is more autonomous mainly in the woodcarving, hunting, gathering, and trapping. They learn ecological knowledge through lengthy, and intense trainings, orientation and interaction particularly to identify the plants, shrubs, herbs, roots, shoots and fruits for carving woodenwares, vegetables, medicines and other family consumptions. Their teaching-learning processes also concern with farmer-forager relation, oral tradition and negotiation which contributes for the production and reproduction of knowledge.  I have collected the information through the personal interviews, informal discussions, and long-term observation of their children’s learning activities in the different occasions over the different period of time.   

Zoögogy of the Oppressed

Ralph Acampora
This talk examines the putative value of Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed for critical animal studies. It highlights and rectifies Freire's undeniable anthropocentrism. The talk then considers other pedagogical avenues for the human/animal interface. These include those of Helena Pedersen on philosophy of education and Kelly Oliver on animal lessons. Richard Kahn's contribution and that of Zoe Weil are also considered. The ultimate goal is to suggest a positive, constructive zoögogy for animal studies, and the talk finds one in the work of the grassroots group Multi-Species Education International.

Identifying immature skill : the visible face of learning behaviours in the Stone Age archaeological record

Sol Sánchez-Dehesa Galán, Jacques Pelegrin

Teaching behaviours are commonly considered to be archaeologically invisible, however different degrees of immature to mature individual skill (and therefore learning steps) can be appreciated and documented, the identification of which is critical for a good understanding of the archaeological record. In this paper I present the results of PhD research focusing on the Acheulean lithic assemblage from the site of Garba I (Ethiopia), made ~600,000 years ago by our ancestor Homo heidelbergenis I explore variability and the technical stages involved in the manufacture (‘knapping’) of complex bifacial stone tools, and the individual skill of the knappers. This work is based on a new methodology developed specifically to identify knapping skill that is derived from the experimental and theoretical work of Jacques Pelegrin. Critical evaluation of action sequences recorded in the tools enables the identification of individual skill and intentions within an assemblage and the distinction of high and low quality productions. The results document different skill levels that correspond to learning processes and suggest the transmission of technical traditions through generations. Moreover, the presence of complex technical procedures in the lithic material, as well as the presence of atypical, miniaturized examples of characteristic Acheulean tools, indicates teaching was not limited to simple observation. The study of teaching in the deep prehistoric past is extremely challenging, but evidence from learning processes and cultural transmission such as this study can shed light on this issue.

Is there teaching in New Caledonian crows?

Natalie Uomini,
MPI-SHH Jena  & MPI-EVA Leipzig

New Caledonian crows are famous for their tool-using and tool-making skills, and their cumulative material culture. Yet they are much less social than other corvids. They live in small groups and they interact daily with less than 10 other crows on average. How do they learn the skills of survival?  Do adults teach their offspring how to make tools? I will present the interim results of my research with wild New Caledonian crows on this question.  I combined observations, field experiments, and focal follows to study crows as they spontaneously made and used tools in their natural habitat. Interactions between adults and juveniles show certain behaviours around tool manipulation, that fall within the spectrum of teaching. I will discuss the results in light of implications for the evolution of teaching.

Children’s Selectivity in Knowledge Transmission: Exploring the Roles of Knowledge Type and Group Membership

Didar Karadağ, Boğaziçi University & Lancaster University
Gaye Soley, Boğaziçi University

Children are quite selective and consider various factors when learning from others. However, much less is known about factors guiding children’s teaching. We investigated whether children would prioritize members of their group when teaching and if so, whether this would depend on the type of knowledge that is being transferred (i.e., social-conventional vs. moral norms). Five- and 6-year-old children (N = 64) were first assigned to minimal groups depending on their color preference. Then, children were introduced to two potential targets differing in their group membership, and were asked to choose one or both of these targets to teach social-conventional or moral norms. Both targets were introduced as being ignorant of the norms. Finally, children were asked to rate their liking of own- and other-group members. Results showed that children chose ingroup members when teaching social-conventional norms, whereas they chose both members when teaching moral norms. In both conditions, children’s liking scores were higher for ingroup members. Taken together, these findings suggest that children consider social-conventional norms as inherently related to groups and transfer them selectively to own-group members. On the other hand, they might consider moral norms as more universal and binding for everyone regardless of their group status.

Two-year old children preferentially transmit simple actions but not pedagogically demonstrated actions.

Marina Bazhydai, Priya Silverstein, Eugenio Parise , Gert Westermann
Lancaster University

Children are sensitive to both social and non-social aspects of the learning environment. Among social cues, pedagogical communication has been shown to not only play a role in children’s learning, but also in their own active transmission of knowledge. Vredenburgh, Kushnir and Casasola (2015) showed that 2-year-olds are more likely to demonstrate an action to a naive adult after learning it in a pedagogical than in a non-pedagogical context. This finding was interpreted as evidence that pedagogically transmitted information has a special status as culturally relevant. Here we test the limits of this claim by setting it in contrast with an explanation in which the relevance of information is the outcome of multiple interacting social (e.g., pedagogical demonstration) and non-social properties (e.g., action complexity). To test these competing hypotheses, we varied both pedagogical cues and action complexity in an information transmission paradigm with 2-year-old children. In Experiment 1, children preferentially transmitted simple non-pedagogically demonstrated actions over pedagogically demonstrated more complex actions. In Experiment 2, when both actions were matched for complexity, we found no evidence of preferential transmission of pedagogically demonstrated actions. We discuss possible reasons for the discrepancy between our results and previous literature showing an effect of pedagogical cues on cultural transmission, and conclude that our results are compatible with the view that pedagogical and other cues interact, but incompatible with the theory of a privileged role for pedagogical cues.
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