Ecological and Developmental Perspectives on Social Learning

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Human Nature



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In this special issue of Human Nature we explore the possible adaptive links between teaching and learning during childhood, and we aim to expand the dialogue on the ways in which the social sciences, and in particular current anthropological research, may better inform our shifting understanding of how these processes vary in different social and ecological environments. Despite the cross-disciplinary trend toward incorporating more behavioral and cognitive data outside of postindustrial state societies, much of the published cross-cultural data is presented as stand-alone population-level studies, making it challenging to extrapolate trends or incorporate both ecological and developmental perspectives. Here, contributors explore how human life history, ecological experience, cumulative culture, and ethnolinguistics impact social learning and child development in foraging and transitioning societies around the world. Using historical ethnographic data and qualitative and quantitative data from studies with contemporary populations, authors interrogate the array of factors that likely interact with cognitive development and learning. They provide contributions that explore the unique environmental, social, and cultural conditions that characterize such populations, offering key insights into processes of social learning, adaptive learning responses, and culture change. This series of articles demonstrates that children are taught culturally and environmentally salient skills in myriad ways, ranging from institutionalized instruction to brief, nuanced, and indirect instruction. Our hope is that this collection stimulates more research on the evolutionary and developmental implications associated with teaching and learning among humans.


Childhood; Child development; Social learning; Foragers; Transitioning populations; Teaching


Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social Psychology



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