One of the essential keypoints of becoming a human being was the ability to build a culture and to be able to hand on this cultural knowledge. Although, some kind of cultural transmission could be detected among other species (such as the transmission of tool usage among primates), presumably there are other specific teleological and learning mechanisms in the backround.
The delayed imitation paradigm is a well known method in studying the early nonverbal declarative memory in human infants. The results of these kinds of studies show that babies do not copy automatically the instrumental behaviour carried out by the adult, but they consider that the demonstrated action is the most rational and the most effective way to reach their goal (rational selective imitation). According to their evaluation, they either copy the behaviour of the adult model or they are using an alternative but more efficient way to reach the goal ('emulating').
There seems to be a human-specific communication system that facilitates imitative learning during infancy: the natural pedagogy. According to the hypothesis of natural pedagogy, the ostensive communicative cues (including eye contact, infant-directed speech, hearing one's own name, contingent reactivity, gaze shift, gaze following, pointing gestures) , accompanying the behavioral manifestations of the relevant cultural information by others, are able to generate a specific 'receptive stance' in both the baby (learner) and caretaker (teacher). This enables the baby to interpret the new knowledge as new and relevant information, thus acquiring it unconditionally.
We hypothesize that this type of receptivity had played and still plays a main role in the transmission of culturally relevant knowledge even today and it is a fast and effective information conveying method, even at times when the aims or mechanisms of the observed activity are visually inaccessible to the learner (e.g. in case of learning, language or cultural conventions).
Publications in the Theme
Király, I., & Gergely, Gy. (2001). Intencionális cselekvések utánzásának és teleológiai értelmezésének viszonya csecsemőknél: A racionális utánzás elmélete. (pp. 105-117). In: Kampis, G., & Ropolyi, L. (Eds.), Evolution and cognition, Budapest: Typotex.
Csibra, G., & Gergely, G. (2006). Social learning and social cognition: The case of pedagogy. In M. H. Johnson & Y. Munakata (Eds.), Progress of Change in Brain and Cognitive Development. Attention and Performance XXI.Oxford University Press.
Gergely, G., & Csibra, G. (2006). Sylvia's recipe: Human culture, imitation, and pedagogy. In: S. Levenson & N. Enfield (Eds.) Roots of Human Sociality: Culture, Cognition, and Human Interaction, Oxford: Berg Publishers.