Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Flexing our social muscles

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As I watch the ceaseless parade of mystery series and movies that now serve me in lieu of reading, I become increasingly consciously of the social structure—a massive net of interlinkages, flexing like a many-dimensional basket, strands stretching, joining, breaking, and sprouting in new directions as people interact with each other and with the structures created by various social groups. The social structures interlink and exist at every level: businesses, religions, play groups, governments, classes, social circles, and so on: every involvement between and among people occurs in the intersection of various social structures and contributes its own spin on their various directions. You cannot, for example, even so much as place yourself in your imagination in a social context (e.g., in one of the locales of a mystery—say the Oxford of Inspector Lewis—without identifying and delineating an entire variety of social markers—position, class, education, profession, family, acquaintances, and so on.

It occurs to me that I’ve been unaware of how pervasive and vast is this sea in which we swim for the same reason that fish are doubtless mostly unaware of the sea that is home to them. But every now and then one realizes just how unique and strange this structure is.  Bruce Bower reports in Science News:

Preschool kids angling for a reward display social skills that may, on a grander scale, turn human cultures into cauldrons of change and innovation.

Groups of 3- to 4-year-olds, but not clusters of chimpanzees or capuchin monkeys, solved progressively more complex tasks in a puzzle box by employing three key social strategies, say zoologist Rachel Kendal of Durham University in England and her colleagues. First, children who solved a task taught struggling peers what to do. Second, kids often copied what others did. And finally, task solvers frequently shared stickers they received as rewards with kids who hadn’t yet earned stickers.

This package of social behaviors characterized four- or five-person groups in which at least two kids solved a three-stage puzzle and most of the rest reached stage two, Kendal’s team reports in the March 2Science. Chimps and capuchins in groups of eight to 32 rarely got beyond stage one of the same puzzle, the researchers say. No evidence of teaching or sharing of food rewards appeared in these primates. Chimps copied others at the first stage but not at higher stages.

“The stark contrast in skills supporting cultural ability between children and both chimps and capuchins was surprising,” Kendal says. Her study is the first to use the same task to explore social learning in different species.

Previous studies of children’s problem-solving in groups have similarly focused on teaching, imitation and sharing, remarks anthropologist Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. These behaviors critically enable human cultures to make rapid advances in knowledge and technology, he says. Further research needs to untangle precisely how this process works, Henrich adds. . .

Continue reading.


Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2012 at 8:37 am

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