[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.

[Paper spotlight] Natural Pedagogy in Oral Storytelling: Evidence that Humans are a Teaching Species

This paper was presented by Michelle Scalise Sugiyama  in the session Ages and Stages at the 2018 AAA annual meeting, and co-authored by Lawrence Sugiyama. Both are professors of anthropology at the University of Oregon.

Abstract: Instruction is reportedly rare in forager societies, raising the question of whether humans have evolved adaptations for teaching. This question hinges on definition. Ethologists define teaching as the modification of behavior by an expert in the presence of a novice, such that the expert incurs a cost (or derives no immediate benefit) and the novice acquires skills/knowledge it wouldn’t acquire (or would acquire less efficiently) otherwise. This begs the question of how behavior is modified to transmit knowledge. Csibra & Gergely (2009) argue that human communication contains mechanisms (e.g., eye contact, pointing, prosodic variation) that signal intent to transmit generalizable knowledge, indicate the intended recipient, and collectively constitute a “natural pedagogy.” On this view, the communication of generalizable knowledge in conjunction with the use of natural pedagogy constitutes evidence of teaching. This study presents evidence that oral storytelling meets these criteria. We searched the forager ethnographic record for descriptions of the stylistic aspects of performed narrative; descriptions were analyzed for references to (a) the use of natural pedagogy behaviors by narrators, and (b) the transmission of generalizable knowledge in oral storytelling. Descriptions were found for 22 forager cultures across five continents and diverse ecological zones and language families: all culture groups evinced the use of natural pedagogy and the transmission of generalizable knowledge in performed narrative. Results suggest that oral storytelling is a form of teaching in our species.

[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.

[In the news] Variations in play between cultures warn west against ‘one-size-fits-all’ recipes for child development

Read this article by Jaipaul L. Roopnarine in the Child & Family blog here. 

“However, in many societies, fathers don’t do roughhouse play. Yet their children have close, well-attached relationships with them and also learn to control their feelings and manage social relationships. A good example is the Aka hunter-gatherer community in the Central African Republic. In this collectivist, egalitarian culture, fathers don’t roughhouse with their young children. Nevertheless, Aka fathers are reckoned to have the closest child-father relationships in the world – they are very gentle caregivers, holding their babies 22 per cent of the time, according to Barry Hewlett’s research. No need to teach Aka dads to roughhouse – they clearly have different pathways to successful child development.”