Directors of the School: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Directors of the Course: Sidney Strauss and Elena Pasquinelli
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Comparative investigations of teaching as part of a package of socio-cognitive mechanism
The remarkable ecological and demographic success of humans is largely attributed to our complex culture, with technology and knowledge being passed from each generation to the next. While a wide range of species learn from social information, the process underpinning culture, a defining feature of human culture appears to be its cumulative nature, with each generation building on the achievements of their predecessors.
My research focuses on identifying the mechanisms that support cumulative culture. By presenting complex puzzle boxes to children, chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys we found that children out-performed the other species due to a package of socio-cognitive mechanisms, which includes teaching. We found no evidence of teaching in chimpanzees or capuchins, but children regularly shared information about how to access the rewards hidden in the puzzle. Even in groups in which children were unfamiliar with one another we found evidence of teaching. However, teaching and information sharing was context dependent, with children in groups where rewards were more scarce, teaching less than groups with abundant rewards. These results suggest that teaching is prevalent in humans compared to other species due to our species’ other-regarding tendencies.