Teaching Culture

A large number of the species on the planet invest heavily in the future by caring for their young. Protection is part of that, but teaching life skills is a major part of the investment. Play is often a major activity, which is centered around the learning process.

Not all learning is around survival skills. Cultural aspects are imbued at the same time. We are very aware of the wide diversity in human culture and these traits are robustly passed on from one generation to another.

The question of does culture get passed on at an early age and what is the process was the question addressed by Nielsen et al from the U of Queensland last week (1). Their approach was to study groups of 4 to 5-year olds in Australia and Sri Lanka after they had been taught to open a box and then passed on that knowledge to other children who passed it on further.

The experiment took two basic forms. In the first the adult went through a formal teaching operation to open a box using many useless/redundant steps and then let the teaching chain of one child to another take over. In the second set-up the teacher made it a game and then allowed a play chain to take place.

The result showed that the result of the formal teaching was a poor route for passing on the redundant/useless steps and by the third child; most of those actions had fallen away. In contrast, when a play mode was employed many more of those redundant steps were retained.

The redundant steps were taken as a surrogate for cultural ritual, which was not necessary for success of the task. The conclusion drawn was that culture is better learned through play rather than being formally taught.

If this is correct, we can shrug off our cultural differences in three generations as long as they are not being formally taught anew to each generation. When we look at youth pop culture, it is easy to believe that is so, but when we look at the antagonism to multiculturalism, we had better stop formally teaching culture.

  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0034066

Leave a Reply