Michelle Kline, PhD Candidate
University of California, Los Angeles 

Approved:  May 2011

Original Abstract

The objective of this research is to test predictions of the hypothesis that cumulative cultural evolution is integral to human adaptation, and that humans possess unique social learning capacities that have coevolved with culture. This research is theoretically important to cultural evolutionary theory because these data will constitute the most extensive existing data set on cultural transmission outside the laboratory. This pursuit matters for the study of human origins, because culture is a major source of human adaptability, and because interpreting the early hominin archaeological record accurately requires empirically verified theory about how cultural transmission creates patterns of cultural variation.

This project has four aims: (1) test whether subtle teaching is important to social learning in a small-scale society; (2) measure within-group variation in knowledge relevant to adaptive skills; (3) test whether theorized learning biases generate adaptive behavior outside the laboratory; and (4) measure patterns of social interaction to infer the geometry of cultural information networks.

The work will take place in villages on Yasawa Island, Fiji. Each village is about 100 people, who subsist mainly on fishing and horticulture. Political units are composed of interrelated clans, a council of elders, and a hereditary chief. There are no local markets, broadcast television, automobiles, or public utilities here. Since face-to-face societies like this one are where most of the world's population lives, and are more similar to the environments to which the human mind has evolved, this is an ideal setting for this study. The researcher will collect data using mixed methodology, including focal follows, structured interviews, and video-recorded observation and video-assisted interviews. She will also conduct collect physiological health measures.


AuthorH Gregory