Children’s Play and the Integration of Social and Individual Learning: A Cultural Niche Construction Perspective

  • Adam Howell BoyetteEmail author
Part of the Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series book series (RNMH)


In this chapter, I explore the integration of imitative and creative aspects of children’s autonomous play as a means of examining the evolved psychology for learning within a culturally constructed niche. I investigate whether children’s play tracks expected pathways of cultural transmission across a small sample of foraging and agrarian societies, and what the settings of Aka forager and Ngandu farmer children’s play reveal about the daily lived experiences that lead to culture learning—especially the role of collaborative learning across middle childhood. My cross-cultural analysis supports the hypothesis that social stratification is associated with horizontal social learning as represented by the frequency children play games. Additionally, however, a high percentage of play across the cultures analyzed represented spontaneous, creative play, indicative of a strong and universal preference for individual learning, which is conducive to innovation. My analysis of the settings of Aka forager and Ngandu farmer children’s play problematizes the idea that vertical and oblique cultural transmission is in practice the movement of information from older to younger individuals. In fact, children’s imitation of traditional (i.e., learned from adults) activities in play often occurred away from adults. These results are discussed in light of previous studies of play and cultural transmission.


Play Learning Cultural niche construction Cultural transmission Foragers 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Trinity College of Arts & SciencesDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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