Cognitive Foundations of Cultural Learning


The ability to learn from others is integral to sustaining and transmitting human culture. What are the cognitive processes that support imitative and collaborative cultural learning? How does cultural learning contribute to group dynamics, such as cohesion and conflict? Recent research has focused on how children acquire instrumental skills through causal inference (Call, Carpenter, & Tomasello, 2005; Whiten, McGuigan, Marshall-Pescini, & Hopper, 2009). However, children also need to acquire the norms and conventions of their culture, as well as an understanding of cooperative behavior, to become full-fledged members of their community. This acquisition begins early in ontogeny and is likely reliant on a unique mix of causal reasoning and affiliative goals, triggered by the nature of the action sequence itself and a variety of social cues. In this symposium, we consider the emerging experimental literature on the development of imitation and collaboration with the goal of applying this work to broader issues of group dynamics and the transmission of culture. Henderson will consider the understanding of collaborative goals in infancy. Kenward will consider the normative basis of young children’s over-imitation. Watson-Jones will examine affiliative motivations underlying children’s imitation. Whitehouse will consider how ritualized, normative behavior and cognition impacts group dynamics of coordination and social cohesion.

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