Teaching and Overimitation Among Aka Hunter-Gatherers

  • Barry S. Hewlett
  • Richard E. W. Berl
  • Casey J. Roulette
Part of the Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series book series (RNMH)


Cognitive psychologists indicate that teaching, language, and accurate imitation are distinct features of human cognition that enable rapid and precise acquisition of cultural beliefs and practices. This chapter examines two of the three proposed cognitive mechanisms that hypothetically enabled pronounced cultural diversity and complexity—teaching and accurate imitation. Both are either rare or do not exist in great apes but are hypothesized by researchers to be part of human nature and therefore universal. A limitation of most existing studies on these topics is that they have been conducted with Western children in laboratory settings. No studies on these topics have been conducted with active hunter-gatherers. This chapter describes two systematic studies with Aka hunter-gatherers of the Central African Republic. Videotapes of Aka 1-year-olds in naturalistic settings are used to evaluate whether or not one type of teaching, called natural pedagogy (NP), exists among foragers. The second study uses a standardized puzzle box with 4- to 7-year-old children to consider whether or not one form of accurate imitation, called overimitation, occurs at this age among the Aka, as it does among 90 % of Western children. Aka data supported the natural pedagogy hypothesis, but found that natural pedagogy was shaped by cultural context and that many other forms of teaching existed in infancy. The overimitation study questioned the age at which it is hypothesized to emerge in human children. Most Aka children used emulation rather than overimitation with the puzzle box, while most Aka adults used overimitation. Again, hunter-gatherer cultural context is suggested to impact the timing of its emergence in human development.


Teaching Overimitation Hunter-gatherers Aka Ngandu Social learning 



We want to sincerely thank the Aka families for allowing us into their lives and home. They tolerated our strange studies and provided extensive hospitality. We also appreciate the financial support of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (H. Terashima, P.I.) and the Leverhulme Trust (U. K. K. Bard, P.I.).


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Barry S. Hewlett
    • 1
  • Richard E. W. Berl
    • 2
  • Casey J. Roulette
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWashington State UniversityVancouverUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Dimensions of Natural ResourcesColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA

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