[Paper spotlight] Ages and Stages: Child learning, exploration, and helping behaviors in foraging and transitioning populations

For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be posting abstracts from the session Ages and stages: Child learning, exploration, and helping behaviors in foraging and transitioning populations. This session was presented at the American Anthropological Association 2018 annual meeting in San Jose. Two fantastic scholars organized the panel; Helen Davis, currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, works on schooling and cognition among Tsimane forager-horticulturalists (Bolivia) and Twe pastoralists (Namibia). Alyssa Crittenden is a professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and works on nutrition, and foraging among Hadza foragers (Tanzania). Get ready for some killer abstracts by the panelists!

Abstract: Hunting and gathering is, evolutionarily, the defining subsistence strategy of our species. Furthermore, many societies are in the process of transitioning from hunting and gathering to market integration, either by choice or by external pressure. Studying how children learn in these societies can, therefore, provide us with key data to test theories about the evolution of human life history, cognition, social behavior, adaptive learning responses, and culture change. However, at present, many assumptions in regard to normative teaching and learning behaviors among children are based only on data from what have been coined Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (WEIRD) societies. In line with this year’s theme Change in the Anthropological Imagination, we aim to expand the dialogue on, and articulate the ways in which, current anthropological research may support or refute long standing ideas about how children learn, when and what they learn, from whom they learn, and how cultures are maintained and changed across generations.

For this session we will focus on learning behaviors in foraging and transitioning populations during middle childhood and adolescence. Middle childhood (about age 6-11) marks a turning point in development, both hormonally (adrenarche) and socially, as children in all cultures broaden their social sphere and engage in more gender-typical roles. Adolescence (11-19) is a time of great motivational and emotional changes, and marks the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood. We are interested in both how forager children learn and explore during these periods of development, and how cultural and social transitions affect traditional modes of childhood learning, confidence and exploration, as well as subsistence behaviors.

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