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Skill ontogeny among Tsimane forager-horticulturalists

Eric Schniter, Michael Gurven, Hillard Kaplan, Nathaniel Wilcox and Paul Hooper
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Michael Gurven: UCSB, Anthropology
Paul Hooper: Santa Fe Institute

Working Papers from Chapman University, Economic Science Institute

Abstract: By systematically examining age patterns in reported acquisition, proficiency, and expertise across a broad range of activities including food production, childcare, and other services, we provide the most complete skill development study of a traditional subsistence society to date. Previous studies of forager skill development have often focused on a few abilities (e.g. hunting), and neglected the broad range of skills and services typical of forager economies (e.g. childcare, craft production, music performance, story-telling). Here, we investigate whether age profiles of reported skill development are consistent with predictions derived from life history theory about the timing of productivity and reproduction. Our results show that: (1) most essential skills are acquired prior to first reproduction, then developed further so that their productive returns meet the increasing demands of dependent offspring during adulthood; (2) as post-reproductive adults age beyond earlier years of peak performance, they report developing additional conceptual and procedural proficiency, and despite greater physical frailty than younger adults, are consensually regarded as the most expert (especially in music and storytelling), consistent with their roles as providers and educators. We find that adults have accurate understandings of their skillsets and skill levels –an important awareness for social exchange, comparison, learning, and pedagogy. These findings extend our understanding of the evolved human life history by illustrating how changes in embodied capital and the needs of dependent offspring predict the development of complementary skills and services in a forager economy.

Keywords: acquisition; proficiency; expertise; development; life history theory (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 73 pages
Date: 2014
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