May 01, 2017

The Evolution and Ontogeny of Cultural Learning

Cristine H. Legare, University of Texas at Austin

Humans display a wide repertoire of socially acquired and transmitted behaviors that vary substantially across populations. Information is accumulated and transferred within and across generations through the process of cumulative culture. What are the evolved psychological mechanisms that underlie cultural learning and how do they develop over the course of ontogeny? In a systematic program of mixed-methodological, comparative, and cross-cultural research, I study the human capacities to learn, create, and transmit culture, to shed light on the cognitive and cultural evolution of our species. The propensity for social learning provides the foundation for cumulative culture, and is both early developing and universal. Selective social learning mechanisms also afford the capacity to flexibly respond to diverse ontogenetic contexts and cultural ecologies. I describe the global diversity in childrearing practices, and present evidence for continuity and variability in the psychological capacities that enable cultural learning.