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Evolution of Teaching and Learning

Dr. Natalie Uomini, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany

Monday, November 5

5:15 pm-6:15 pm, LH 14



A major question in the evolution of cognition is how tool-making skills were transmitted between individuals. Data from many human cultures and other animals can reveal a wide variety of social learning strategies that prehistoric hominins might have engaged in. To acquire technological skills, humans use many types of social learning, ranging from watching others to interactive verbal exchanges. Other animals also use different social learning to acquire life skills, but only humans appear to use language for teaching. When did this connection between language and teaching emerge? How did prehistoric hominins pass on their skills before they had language? I present three experiments that addressed these questions. First, we taught people how to make Oldowan stone tools given different forms of social learning. Second, we examined the role of viewpoint on learning by imitation. Third, we asked how the brain adapts to learning stone knapping. From these and other findings, I propose that the increasing complexity of teaching and technology co-evolved, and that language allowed humans to evolve ever more complex tools. My current work on tool-skill learning in New Caledonian crows will help unravel the conditions that favored the evolution of technological cognition.


Natalie Uomini is a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. She researches the evolution of cognition, language, handedness, and tool-making with interdisciplinary approaches that bridge animal behavior, anthropology, archaeology, cognitive science, linguistics, and psychology.


Last Updated: 12/9/19