[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.

[Paper spotlight] Who teaches children to forage? Exploring the primacy of child-to-child teaching among Hadza and BaYaka hunter-gatherers of Tanzania and Congo

This paper was presented by Sheina Lew-Levy  in the session Ages and Stages at the 2018 AAA annual meeting. Sheina is a PhD student in the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge. This paper was co-authored by Stephen M. Kissler (junior research fellow in mathematics at University of Cambridge), Adam H. Boyette (postdoctoral fellow in the Thompson Writing Program, Duke University), Alyssa N. Crittenden (professor of anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas), Barry S. Hewlett (professor of anthropology, Washington State University), and Michael E. Lamb (professor of psychology, University of Cambridge).

Abstract: Teaching is cross-culturally widespread but few studies have considered children as teachers as well as learners. This is surprising, since forager children spend much of their time playing and foraging in child-only groups, and thus, have access to many potential child teachers. Using the Social Relations Model, we examined the prevalence of child-to-child teaching using focal follow data from 35 Hadza and 38 BaYaka 3- to 18-year-olds. We investigated the effect of age, sex and kinship on the teaching of subsistence skills. We found that child-to-child teaching was more frequent than adult-child teaching. Additionally, children taught more with age, teaching was more likely to occur within same-sex versus opposite-sex dyads, and close kin were more likely to teach than non-kin. We also found distinct learning patterns between the two groups; teaching was more likely to occur between sibling dyads among the Hadza than among the BaYaka, and a multistage learning model where younger children learn from peers, and older children from adults, was evident for the BaYaka, but not for the Hadza. We attribute these differences to subsistence and settlement patterns. These findings highlight children’s role in the intergenerational transmission of subsistence skills.

[Methods] Studying Children’s Cultural Knowledge and Behaviors Related to Environment, Health, and Food: Methods for Ethnoecological Research with Children

Curious about measuring children’s ethnoecological knowledge? Check out Sullivan and colleagues paper in the Journal of Ethnobiology.

Abstract: Children’s ethnoecological knowledge and behaviors related to the environment, health, and food can differ significantly from those of the adults around them. It can be difficult to design studies to capture these differences because standard ethnographic methods do not necessarily translate well to fieldwork with children. We review and evaluate the range of tools useful for eliciting children’s (birth to age 12) cultural knowledge and behavior across the domains of health, food, and the environment, identifying the characteristics of different methods (e.g., what type of data they produce, their fit with types of research questions, ages with which they have been used, analytical tools, advantages, and disadvantages). Methods examined include systematic observation in situ (time scans or spot observations), focal follows, photo and video elicitation, artwork, photovoice, video diaries, scrapbooking, oral semi-structured interviews, focus groups, written surveys and diaries, object identification and sorting, attribution tasks, and narrative picture book tasks. We find several opportunities to strengthen ethnoecological research with children. These include regularly disclosing and discussing the challenges and details of using informed consent and conducting new research to understand the impacts of integrating technologies with other methods to collect ethnoecological data with children. Careful consideration of methods is important for rigorous research and this article serves as a tool for researchers working with or considering working with children, to expand the body of research engaging with and analyzing children’s unique cultures.

[Paper spotlight] Learning While Doing. Children Becoming Productive and Cooperative Foragers

This paper was presented by Karen Kramer in the session Ages and Stages at the 2018 AAA annual meeting, and co-authored by Russell Greaves. Both are professors of anthropology at the University of Utah.

Abstract: How children learn to become productive and cooperative adults and how that varies cross culturally has received renewed interest. Preparing to become a competent adult can be conceived of as a continuum distinguished at one end by formal education and training and at the other by learning while doing.  Forager children not only grow up in variable environments, but within any particular society, subsistence tasks vary in terms of required preparedness and risks.  Using return rate and time allocation data for Savanna Pumé hunter-gatherers, we focus on the transition from childhood to adolescence and evaluate how children spend their time, where they spend their time, and with whom.  Specifically we assess whether children forage and perform other subsistence tasks alone, in the company of other children, or with adults, and how that is related to task-specific age-gains in efficiency and time allocated to a task.  We find that for a few tasks, primarily hunting, children apprentice with adults. However, for most subsistence activities (fishing, root and fruit collection, food processing and preparation), children learn by doing, and most often in the company of other children rather than adults.  This importantly builds cooperation and coordination within cohorts, which is critical to successful adulthood and parenting.  Our results challenge the common perception that hunter-gatherer children contribute little to the subsistence base and shed light on the perspective that childhood is itself an adaptive stage.