Human Nature

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 351-374

First online:

Teaching and the Life History of Cultural Transmission in Fijian Villages

  • Michelle A. KlineAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of California Los Angeles Email author 
  • , Robert BoydAffiliated withSchool of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State UniversitySante Fe Institute
  • , Joseph HenrichAffiliated withDepartments of Psychology and Economics, University of British Columbia

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Much existing literature in anthropology suggests that teaching is rare in non-Western societies, and that cultural transmission is mostly vertical (parent-to-offspring). However, applications of evolutionary theory to humans predict both teaching and non-vertical transmission of culturally learned skills, behaviors, and knowledge should be common cross-culturally. Here, we review this body of theory to derive predictions about when teaching and non-vertical transmission should be adaptive, and thus more likely to be observed empirically. Using three interviews conducted with rural Fijian populations, we find that parents are more likely to teach than are other kin types, high-skill and highly valued domains are more likely to be taught, and oblique transmission is associated with high-skill domains, which are learned later in life. Finally, we conclude that the apparent conflict between theory and empirical evidence is due to a mismatch of theoretical hypotheses and empirical claims across disciplines, and we reconcile theory with the existing literature in light of our results.

Key words

Cultural transmission Human evolution Teaching Learning Childhood