The Culture of Learning

monkeys with rock tools

cover Capuchin.pngA provocative new study from psychology researchers published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that practicing with others shapes not only what monkeys learn, but also how they learn:

Culture extends biology in that the setting of development shapes the traditions that individuals learn, and over time, traditions evolve as occasional variations are learned by others. In humans, interactions with others impact the development of cognitive processes, such as sustained attention, that shape how individuals learn as well as what they learn. Thus, learning itself is impacted by culture. Here, we explore how social partners might shape the development of psychological processes impacting learning a tradition. We studied bearded capuchin monkeys learning a traditional tool-using skill, cracking nuts using stone hammers. Young monkeys practice components of cracking nuts with stones for years before achieving proficiency.

The lead author on the new study, Professor of psychology and chair of the Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program Dorothy Fragaszy, is an internally-renowned expert on instrumental behavior in primates. Her photo above, made the cover of this week's PNAS. Great work, with far-reaching implications toward a better understanding of the learning process.

Image: A juvenile capuchin monkey observes a skilled adult male eating a nut it has just broken using a hammerstone. PNAS cover, July 25, 2017