Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 465–483 | Cite as

Ready to Teach or Ready to Learn: A Critique of the Natural Pedagogy Theory

  • Hisashi Nakao
  • Kristin Andrews


According to the theory of natural pedagogy, humans have a set of cognitive adaptations specialized for transmitting and receiving knowledge through teaching; young children can acquire generalizable knowledge from ostensive signals even in a single interaction, and adults also actively teach young children. In this article, we critically examine the theory and argue that ostensive signals do not always allow children to learn generalizable knowledge more efficiently, and that the empirical evidence provided in favor of the theory of natural pedagogy does not defend the theory as presented, nor does it support a weakened version of the theory. We argue that these problems arise because the theory of natural pedagogy is grounded in a misguided assumption, namely that learning about the world and learning about people are two distinct and independent processes. If, on the other hand, we see the processes as interrelated, then we have a better explanation for the empirical evidence.


Causal Structure Explicit Teaching Natural Pedagogy Cognitive Adaptation Evolutionary Story 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Fellows and Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas No. 26118504 “The Evolutionary Origin and Neural Basis for the Empathethic Systems” to the first author. We are grateful to Olivia Sultanescu for her helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Corresponding author: School of Advanced StudiesThe Graduate University for Advanced StudiesMiura–gunJapan
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy and Cognitive Science ProgramYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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