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Learning prosociality: insights from young forager and subsistence farmer children’s food sharing with mothers and others

  • Gilda MorelliEmail author
  • Paula Ivey Henry
  • Bryn Spielvogel
Review
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. An evolutionary perspective on the development of primate sociality

Abstract

This paper examines the ecosocial basis of prosociality as reflected in early food-sharing behaviors of children in traditional hunter-gatherer and subsistence farming communities. The body of work on children’s prosociality focuses predominantly on processes investigated in families with Western lifestyles (e.g., urban, middle-class), who are overrepresented in developmental research and theory but underrepresented globally. From this perspective, mothers are singularly influential in young children’s prosocial acts. We critique this view and use the ecocultural model of Keller and Kärtner (2013) to illustrate that mothers’ role relative to others varies in systematic ways across communities related to environmental, ecosocial, and cultural contexts. We describe work on the social experiences of Efe forager infants and young children where Efe mothers share children’s care and a broad set of early child relationships is typical. We then compare the critical prosocial act of food sharing with one- to three-year-old Efe foragers and Lese subsistence farmers of DR Congo. These neighboring tropical communities address the shared threat of high nutritional uncertainty in distinct ways. Efe and Lese children’s food sharing includes many others besides mothers. However, food-sharing frequency and social partners involved differ. Notable is that Efe focal children received more offers of food from more different adults and children whereas Lese focal children did so from more different siblings. Ecosocial (e.g., subsistence, residence patterns) and cultural contexts are considered in accounting for Efe and Lese children’s food-sharing experiences. Current views substantially underestimate the social networks of children’s prosocial learning.

Keywords

Children Prosocial Food sharing Hunter-gatherers Social networks Farmers 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Federica Amici and Anja Widdig for their invitation to the topical collection “An evolutionary perspective on the development of primate sociality”; to David Wilkie for writing the programs to extract the data for this paper; and to the reviewers whose feedback helped to improve the organization and conceptual framing of this paper.

Funding

This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (BNS-8609013).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Permission from guardians was obtained to photograph the children in Fig. 9 and to use the photograph for research-related purposes.

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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Boston CollegeNewtonUSA
  2. 2.Harvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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