Professor Cecilia Heyes All Souls College and Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford
Cultural Learning as Communication
What is cultural learning? How does it differ from other kinds of social learning in humans and other animals? What is it about cultural learning that enables accumulation and cultural selection? I will suggest that, in addressing these questions, it is helpful to think of cultural learning as a form of communication – as learning from, rather than learning about, other agents. What is culturally learned from other agents can be about other agents or the inanimate world, but it must involve transfer of competence. What I learn must depend on what you know. Drawing on studies of face recognition, reading, motor learning and moral cognition, I will suggest that, although teaching and intentional communication play important roles in human cultural inheritance, they are not required for cultural learning. It can happen when information leaks out of one agent and into another.
Dr Ellen Garland Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, and Sea Mammal Research Unit, School of Biology, University of St. Andrews
Vocal learning and cultural transmission in cetaceans: lessons from humpback whale song
Cetaceans show some of the most sophisticated and complex vocal and cultural behaviour we know outside of humans, including learning, shared traditions and gene-culture coevolution. Male humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) sing a long, stereotyped, vocally learnt and culturally transmitted song display. At any point in time most males within a population will sing the same version (arrangement and content) of this complex sexual display. However, the song is continually evolving and males must constantly learn and incorporate these changes into their own song to maintain cultural conformity. In addition to evolutionary change, song also undergoes radical ‘revolutions’ where a novel song introduced from a neighbouring population rapidly and completely replaces the existing song. Multiple humpback whale song revolutions have spread across the South Pacific region from the east coast of Australia across to French Polynesia, with a one to two year delay. This has occurred regularly, rapidly and repeatedly across the region; however, we still have a limited understanding of the underlying mechanisms driving this cultural phenomenon. Using empirical data, I will present our current understanding of the mechanisms involved in the song learning process, how these processes may be disrupted, and finally the evolutionary implications for this cultural phenomenon.
Dr Zanna Clay University of Durham
Communication, culture and social bonds: Evolutionary insights from our great ape relatives
A fundamental basis of what it means to be human is our ability and motivation to copy others. Through copying, we can acquire and build upon cultural technologies, norms and rituals, understand social rules and crucially- acquire and transmit languages along with other systems of communication. The intimate relationship between communication, social bonding and culture is not limited to our species however, but instead permeates right across the animal kingdom. In this talk, I will discuss the interplay between communication, culture and social bonding in our closest living relatives, the great apes while also touching on examples from other species. Understanding the communicative and cultural capacities of our primate relatives is essential for building an informed evolutionary model of how our own complex and sophisticated forms of communication and culture, most notably language, might have evolved.
Dr Martin Doherty University of East Anglia
By any other name: labelling and theory of mind.
How something is labelled is critical to communication, both to identifying what is being talked about and how it is presented. Labelling affects word learning from infancy, and adults’ tendency to form ‘conceptual pacts’. I present the claim that the ability to think about labels shares the same conceptual basis as the ability to think about representational mental states. Fundamental common developments around 4 years allow children to think about false beliefs, and about alternative labels. This finding has clear relevance for claims of infant theory of mind, word learning, and adult conversational practice. Supporting data will focus on recent research on preschool word learning biases, including bilingual and cross-cultural comparisons. Development will be explained using the metaphor of mental files.