[Paper spotlight] Spatial cognitive ability, exploration, and formal education in traditional and transitioning populations

This paper was presented by Helen Davis in the session Ages and Stages at the 2018 AAA annual meeting. Helen is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

Abstract: In many societies, males range farther than females, and this greater environmental experience may foster better spatial ability. We evaluated these relationships among 6-18 year old Tsimané and OvaTwa children, two populations with subsistence based economies with vastly different ecologies. In both societies girls and boys have few constraints on spatial exploration. Mobility was assessed through GPS tracking and interview, spatial ability through pointing accuracy, perspective-taking and mental rotation, and harm avoidance through interview. Few gender differences were found in mobility or spatial ability. Among the Tsimané we also found that greater regional travel and winding daily tracks were predictive of better navigation, however, increased time in school was inversely correlated with both regional travel and navigational ability.


[Paper spotlight] Physical activity and time budgets of Hadza forager children: Implications for self-provisioning and the ontogeny of the sexual division of labor

This paper by Froehle and colleagues examines the ontogeny of the the sexual division of labor among the Hadza. Read the full paper here!

Objectives: To determine the effects of age and sex on physical activity and time budgets of Hadza children and juveniles, 5-14 years old, including both in-camp and out-of-camp activities.
Methods: Behavioral data were derived from ~15 000 hourly in-camp scan obser- vations of 76 individuals and 13 out-of-camp focal follows on nine individuals. The data were used to estimate energy expended and percentage of time engaged in a variety of routine activities, including food collection, childcare, making and repairing tools, and household maintenance.
Results: Our results suggest that (1) older children spend more time in economic activities; (2) females spend more time engaged in work-related and economic activities in camp, whereas males spend more time engaged in economic activities out of camp; and (3) foraging by both sexes tends to net caloric gains despite being energetically costly.
Conclusions: These results show that, among the Hadza, a sexual division of labor begins to emerge in middle childhood and is well in place by adolescence. Further- more, foraging tends to provide net caloric gains, suggesting that children are capa- ble of reducing at least some of the energetic burden they place upon their parents or alloparents. The findings are relevant to our understanding of the ways in which young foragers allocate their time, the development of sex-specific behavior pat- terns, and the capacity of children’s work efforts to offset the cost of their own care in a cooperative breeding environment.

[Methods] Variation is the universal: making cultural evolution work in developmental psychology

This paper by Kline and colleagues, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B details some common pitfalls in how psychologists account for culture in cross-cultural research, and some suggestions on how to overcome them.

Abstract: Culture is a human universal, yet it is a source of variation in human psychology, behaviour and development. Developmental researchers are now expanding the geographical scope of research to include populations beyond relatively wealthy Western communities. However, culture and context still play a secondary role in the theoretical grounding of developmental psychology research, far too often. In this paper, we highlight four false assumptions that are common in psychology, and that detract from the quality of both standard and cross-cultural research in development. These assumptions are: (i) the universality assumption, that empirical uniformity is evidence for universality, while any variation is evidence for culturally derived variation; (ii) the Western centrality assumption, that Western populations represent a normal and/or healthy standard against which development in all societies can be compared; (iii) the deficit assumption, that population-level differences in developmental timing or outcomes are necessarily due to something lacking among non-Western populations; and (iv) the equivalency assumption, that using identical research methods will necessarily produce equivalent and externally valid data, across disparate cultural contexts. For each assumption, we draw on cultural evolutionary theory to critique and replace the assumption with a theoretically grounded approach to culture in development. We support these suggestions with positive examples drawn from research in development. Finally, we conclude with a call for researchers to take reasonable steps towards more fully incorporating culture and context into studies of development, by expanding their participant pools in strategic ways. This will lead to a more inclusive and therefore more accurate description of human development.

[Paper spotlight] Indigenous Children’s Play in the Brazilian Amazonia

This chapter by Gosso and colleagues in the edited volume Children’s Play and Learning in Brazil examines children’s play in a Parakanã village.

Abstract: This chapter presents a short portrait of physical, demographical, economic, and social aspects of the Brazilian Amazon region and of the presence of indigenous groups in the region. The relative scarcity of the available Child Anthropology and Child Psychology literature and particularly of quantitative studies on indigenous children’s play is highlighted. A detailed quantitative description of children’s life and play activities in one Parakanã village and comparisons with similar available information on other peer cultures are presented and complemented with a qualitative description of play in other Amazonian indigenous groups. Similarities of peer cultures across different Amazonian indigenous groups are pointed out, and their awareness of nature and knowledge about the environment around the villages are emphasized as conspicuous aspects of these cultures. Play behavior among indigenous children seems to have functional value not only for their future life, as usually pointed out in the literature, but also for the quality and viability of their childhood.

[Paper spotlight] Cultural Transmission of Foundational Schemas among Congo Basin Hunter-Gatherers

This paper by Sonoda and colleagues in African Study Monographs examines how BaYaka children acquire foundational schemas.

Abstract: Congo Basin hunter-gatherer societies are said to share cultural models, such as egalitarianism, respect for individual autonomy, and the process of giving and sharing. In this paper, we assume foundational schemas as any coherence connected to these cultural models at a fundamental level. In describing the process of reproduction and acquisition of foundational schemas in everyday interaction found in two different societies, we aim to assess whether foundational schemas have the potential to challenge social and ecological changes. For several decades, these societies have faced multiple social and ecological changes. These include sedentarization, the reduction of access to their territory and resources, higher access to schooling, and variable access to health services among others. Considering the increasing access of external actors into their territories, one could wonder what the impacts are on hunter-gatherer’s transmission of foundational schemas and cultural knowledge. Therefore, this paper explores the processes of cultural transmission and reproduction of foundational schemas among Congo Basin hunter-gatherer children, by focusing specifically on children’s interactions as well as interactions between children and adults, while performing their daily activities. By presenting data from long-term fieldwork conducted among the Mbendjele BaYaka from Republic of the Congo and the Baka from Cameroon, this paper aims to bring new elements to understanding the processes involved in the transmission of cultural values. By taking a child-focused approach, this article discusses how a foundational schema emerges in the production of cultural knowledge, what kind of changes challenge transmission of foundational schemas, and how the current challenges faced by these societies are affecting this transmission.

[Paper spotlight] Social Networks and Knowledge Transmission Strategies among Baka Children, Southeastern Cameroon

A new paper by Gallois and colleagues in Human Nature examines the flow of knowledge in networks along the Baka. Check it out here!

Abstract: The dynamics of knowledge transmission and acquisition, or how different aspects of culture are passed from one individual to another and how they are acquired and embodied by individuals, are central to understanding cultural evolution. In small-scale societies, cultural knowledge is largely acquired early in life through observation, imitation, and other forms of social learning embedded in daily experiences. However, little is known about the pathways through which such knowledge is transmitted, especially during middle childhood and adolescence. This study presents new empirical data on cultural knowledge transmission during childhood. Data were collected among the Baka, a forager-farmer society in southeastern Cameroon. We conducted structured interviews with children between 5 and 16 years of age (n = 58 children; 177 interviews, with children being interviewed 1–6 times) about group composition during subsistence activities. Children’s groups were generally diverse, although children tended to perform subsistence activities primarily without adults and with same-sex companions. Group composition varied from one subsistence activity to another, which suggests that the flow of knowledge might also vary according to the activity performed. Analysis of the social composition of children’s subsistence groups shows that vertical and oblique transmission of subsistence-related knowledge might not be predominant during middle childhood and adolescence. Rather, horizontal transmission appears to be the most common knowledge transmission strategy used by Baka children during middle childhood and adolescence, highlighting the importance of other children in the transmission of knowledge.