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Chapter 2

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Sisi Tran

Chapter 2: Culture and Human Nature IS CULTURE UNIQUE TO HUMANS? - depends on definition used  if “can use symbolic code”, then that’s unique to humans (but it’s circular reasoning) - definition from previous chapter much broader, “able to learn info from other members of their species through social transmission” = not unique to humans - evident in primate species, elephants, complex cultural learning among dolphins and whales (not only the most intelligent species, also evident in pigeons, various bird species, guppies) Cultural Learning - humans stand out in contrast to other animals in extent of their cultural learning skills –nonhumans seem to be very slow - humans unique in whom they choose to imitate –imitating prestigious others = very efficient way of cultural learning  don’t know what to imitate, not sure what gave them their success leads us to do everything prestigious ppl do = increase likelihood that we learn skills that lead to success  prestige biases may be responsible for humankind’s adept cultural learning, but also contribute to creation of tabloids - humans unusually sophisticated cultural learning skills rest on two key capacities: 1. ability to consider perspective of others 2. ability to communicate w/ language THEORY OF M IND - theory of mind: ppl understand that others have perspectives and intentions diff from their own  chimpanzees and other animals lack ability and motivation to consider to consider intentions of others has consequences for cultural learning - imitative learning: learner internalizes something of model’s goals and behavioural strategies - emulative learning: learning is focused on environmental events involved –how use of object could potentially effect changes in state of environment  focused on events that happen around model, rather than what model intends to accomplish  try to figure things out for themselves once get idea by observing others  can be clever and creative form of learning –figure 2.3, p.41: chimpanzees used it in most effective ways both times (emulative); children imitated both exactly (imitative) - research finds that when children imitate a model, they imitate all actions, including irrelevant ones –chimpanzees on the other hand skipped irrelevant actions - although emulative seems very successful, it has a critical drawback: doesn’t allow for cultural info to accumulate LANGUAGE F ACILITATECULTURALLEARNING - enormously important in conveying cultural info - allows ideas to be communicated w/out need of visuals - humans have more sophisticated ways of communicating ideas than other primate species - this high-precision cultural learning provided humans w/ unique advantage that has profound implications: human cultural learning is cumulative Cumulative Cultural Evolution - ratchet effect: the process of an initial idea that is learned from others can then be modified and improved upon by other individuals – cultures of humans are cumulative - to have cumulative cultural evolution…  need creative invention  need reliable and faithful social transmission (invented tool/practice needs to be replicated enough that others have solid foundation upon which to build future innovations) –requires accurate imitative learning and sophisticated communication - no other species shown capacity for this –learning and retention of cultural knowledge is poor = unable to build on each other’s discoveries - ex: figure 2.4, p.44 - innovations grow at exponential rates –tend to accumulate faster w/ growing # of potential models to imitate, and increasing amount of info and technologies that new innovations can be built upon ex: the computer; each innovation in computer technology built on accumulated cultural knowledge - key role that cultural learning plays in accumulation of innovations can be seen in reverse: why cultures sometimes lose ideas? th  ex: first human settlers to Tasmania 18 century Tasmanians had simpler technologies than thousands of years earlier. Due to shortage of models to copy from, completely isolated from other cultural groups (isolated physically, or cultures adopting reclusive habits)  ex: societies throughout islands of Oceania population sizes determined amount complex technologies (larger = more complex)  trend for cultural knowledge to accumulate = # of models available for ppl to learn from - accumulation not limited to physical tools , psychological mechanisms can undergo cumulative cultural evolution (
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