Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 799–806 | Cite as

Variability, Flexibility and Constraint: Towards the Evolutionary Roots of Teaching

  • Michael ChazanEmail author


This article considers the evolutionary roots of education in the hominin lineage drawing on the variability selection hypothesis. The variability selection hypothesis emphasizes adaptation to a variable environment and flexible behavior. However, the archaeological record indicates that there are some structuring factors including learned technical skill and knowledge, trends in the progressive development of technology, and the contextual influence on the adaptive advantage conferred by learning versus trial and error. Thus, the flexibility of hominin behavior includes both the ability to develop novel responses to changing conditions and to structure behavior within constraints. It is argued that negotiating between the capacity for flexibility and for behavior based on learned structures is fundamental to the practice of education.


  1. Bar-Yosef, O., & Meignen, L. (1992). Insights into Levantine middle Paleolithic cultural variability. The Middle Paleolithic: Adaptation, Behavior, and Variability, edited by Harold Dibble. University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, pp. 163–182.Google Scholar
  2. Bar-Yosef, O., and P. Van Peer. 2009. The chaîne opératoire approach in middle Paleolithic archaeology. Current Anthropology 50 (1): 103–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boëda, E. (2013). Techno-logique & technologie: une paléo-histoire des objects lithiques tranchants. @rchéo-éditions, Bergerac.Google Scholar
  4. Bordes, F. (1961). Typologie du Paléolithique ancien et moyen (No. 1). Delmas, Paris.Google Scholar
  5. Buckner, Randy L., and Fenna M. Krienen. 2013. The evolution of distributed association networks in the human brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17 (12): 648–665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chazan, M. 2008. Culture, information, and inheritance: New perspectives on old questions. Reviews in Anthropology 37 (1): 3–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chazan, M. (2009). Pattern and technology: why the chaîne opératoire matters. Transitions in prehistory: Essays in honor of Ofer Bar-Yosef, edited by John Shea and Daniel Lieberman. Peabody Museum Press, Cambridge, pp. 469–78.Google Scholar
  8. Chazan, M. 2012. Handaxes, concepts, and teaching. Mind, Brain, and Education 6 (4): 197–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chazan, M. (2015a). The Fauresmith and archaeological systematics. Palaeoecology of Africa (Changing Climates, Ecosystems and Environments within Arid Southern Africa and Adjoining Regions) 33, 59–69.Google Scholar
  10. Chazan, M. 2015b. Technological trends in the Acheulean of Wonderwerk cave, South Africa. African Archaeological Review 32 (4): 701–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coolidge, F.L., and T. Wynn. 2005. Working memory, its executive functions, and the emergence of modern thinking. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 15 (1): 5–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. de Lumley, H., M. Nioradzé, D. Barsky, D. Cauche, V. Celiberti, O. Notter, D. Zvania, and D. Lordkipanidze. 2005. Les industries lithiques pré-oldowayennes du début du Pléistocène inférieur du site de Dmanissi en Géorgie. L’Anthropologie 109: 1–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DeMenocal, P.B. 2011. Climate and human evolution. Science 331: 540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dibble, H.L. 1987. The interpretation of middle Paleolithic scraper morphology. American Antiquity 52: 109–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Klein, R.G. 1995. Anatomy, behavior, and modern human origins. Journal of World Prehistory 9 (2): 167–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lordkipanidze, D., M.S.P. de León, A. Margvelashvili, Y. Rak, G.P. Rightmire, A. Vekua, and C.P. Zollikofer. 2013. A complete skull from Dmanisi, Georgia, and the evolutionary biology of early homo. Science 342 (6156): 326–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mellars, P. 1991. Cognitive changes and the emergence of modern humans in Europe. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 1 (01): 63–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nitecki, M.H., and D.V. Nitecki, eds. 1990. Evolutionary innovations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. Potts, R. 1998. Variability selection in hominid evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 7 (3): 81–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Potts, R. 2012. Evolution and environmental change in early human prehistory 1. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 151–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Potts, R. 2013. Hominin evolution in settings of strong environmental variability. Quaternary Science Reviews 73: 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Richerson, Peter J., and R. Boyd. 2005. Not by genes alone: How culture transformed human evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  23. Tennie, C., J. Call, and M. Tomasello. 2009. Ratcheting up the ratchet: On the evolution of cumulative culture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 364 (1528): 2405–2415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Wood, B., and B.G. Richmond. 2000. Human evolution: Taxonomy and paleobiology. The Journal of Anatomy 197 (1): 19–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations